Distinguish Fear Of Death From Fear Of Dying
Many people with death anxiety confuse fear of death with fear of dying:
- Fear of death is usually described as being afraid of what happens after death, the consequences of your death, or what death means. For example, many peoples fear of death comes from having a difficult time with the uncertainty of what happens to us after we die. In a sense, fear of death is an existential fear.
- Fear of dying, on the other hand, tends to be more about the process of deathspecifically the pain and suffering that might be involved in the activity of dying itself. In this case, being scared of death might be something much more specific like a fear of how painful dying of cancer will be. Or if youll be alone while dying.
Now, more than just an intellectual distinction, figuring out whether its fear of death or fear of dying you struggle most with is helpful because different approaches tend to be more helpful for each.
For example, if its fear of death youre struggling with, then it might be beneficial to do some exploratory therapy to look at what death really means to you and what sorts of beliefs you have around death. Existential psychotherapy can be very helpful in this regard.
It might also be beneficial to work with a cognitive behavioral therapist to address unrealistic thoughts and beliefs about dying.
The Five Stages Of Grief
Denial:This cant be happening to me.
Anger: Why is this happening? Who is to blame?
Bargaining: Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.
Depression: Im too sad to do anything.
Acceptance: Im at peace with what happened.
If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that youll heal in time. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stagesand thats okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably wont experience them in a neat, sequential order, so dont worry about what you should be feeling or which stage youre supposed to be in.
Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.
Grief can be a roller coaster
Source: Hospice Foundation of America
Why Do I Feel Like This When Im Not In Any Real Danger
Early humans needed the fast, powerful responses that fear causes, as they were often in situations of physical danger however, we no longer face the same threats in modern-day living.
Despite this, our minds and bodies still work in the same way as our early ancestors, and we have the same reactions to our modern worries about bills, travel and social situations. But we cant run away from or physically attack these problems!
The physical feelings of fear can be scary in themselves especially if you are experiencing them and you dont know why, or if they seem out of proportion to the situation. Instead of alerting you to a danger and preparing you to respond to it, your fear or anxiety can kick in for any perceived threat, which could be imaginary or minor.
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Get Your Chronic Worry Habit Under Control
Worry is the mental habit of thinking unhelpful and anxiety-producing thoughts about the future.
Of course we worry sometimesespecially about topics as understandably scary and unknown as death. But chronic worry is when youve gotten into the habit of worrying compulsively and excessively. And when you develop the habit of chronic worry around death, it intensifies your fear of death itself.
The reason is simple: To your brains fear center, worry is a sign that you think something is dangerous.
So when your brain sees you repeatedly worrying about something, it starts to see that thing as a threat. This means the next time you encounter that thing, your brain is going to shoot you up with adrenaline as a way to deal with this dangeronly making you more anxious.
Now death itself is of course dangerous. The problem is, most people who have fear of death have gotten into the habit of worrying about things related to death, and so trained their brains to be not only afraid of death itself, but of all sorts of things just remotely related to death.
For example: If every time the topic of death comes up, you start worrying about what it will be like to be sick and dying and in pain in a hospital, you could start to develop anxiety around hospitals and medical care. Now your fear of death triggers fear of anything medical-related and visa versa.
The habit of chronic worry only intensifies and generalizes your fear of death.
How To Overcome The Fear Of Death
This article was co-authored by Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS. Trudi Griffin is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wisconsin specializing in Addictions and Mental Health. She provides therapy to people who struggle with addictions, mental health, and trauma in community health settings and private practice. She received her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University in 2011.There are 24 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 25 testimonials and 84% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 1,374,272 times.
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How To Bring The Conversation Of Death Home
While Death Cafes are still relatively new in the U.S., many other cultures have long-standing, positive rituals around death and dying.
Rev. Terri Daniel, MA, CT, has a certificate in Death, Dying, and Bereavement, ADEC. Shes also the founder of the Death Awareness Institute and the Afterlife Conference. Daniel is experienced in using shamanic rituals of indigenous cultures to help heal people by moving the energy of trauma and loss out of the physical body. Shes studied death rituals in other cultures as well.
In China, family members assemble altars to recently deceased relatives. These might contain flowers, photos, candles, and even food. They leave these altars up for at least a year, sometimes forever, so the souls of those who have departed are with them every day. Death isnt an afterthought or a fear, its an everyday reminder.
Daniel cites an Islamic ritual as another example: If a person sees a funeral procession, they must follow it for 40 steps to stop and recognize the importance of death. She also mentions how Hinduism and Buddhism as religions and attending cultures teach and understand the importance of death and preparation for death as a path to enlightenment, instead of regarding death with fear and anxiety.
What Makes You Anxious
Because anxiety is a type of fear, the things weve described about fear above are also true for anxiety.
The word anxiety tends to be used to describe worry, or when fear is nagging and persists over time. It is used when the fear is about something in the future rather than what is happening right now.
Anxiety is a word often used by health professionals when theyre describing persistent fear. The ways that you feel when youre frightened and anxious are very similar, as the basic emotion is the same.
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Being Time And Dasein
, the German philosopher, on the one hand showed death as something conclusively determined, in the sense that it is inevitable for every human being, while on the other hand, it unmasks its indeterminate nature via the truth that one never knows when or how death is going to come. Heidegger does not engage in speculation about whether being after death is possible. He argues that all human existence is embedded in time: past, present, future, and when considering the future, we encounter the notion of death. This then creates angst. Angst can create a clear understanding in one that death is a possible mode of existence, which Heidegger described as “clearing”. Thus, angst can lead to a freedom about existence, but only if we can stop denying our mortality .
Ground Yourself In The Present Moment
Not reading into your repeated thoughts about your loved ones death is all well and good. But in that moment, after telling yourself to let go of the thought, what do you fill your mental space with instead? I bet you know from experience that its very easy to slip right back into the worried-thoughts rabbit hole unless youre actively engaged in something else.
Practice shifting your attention to whats going on in the here and now, in your body and your surroundings.
So go ahead and ground yourself in the present moment with some engaging activity. You can certainly watch some TV or play a game to distract yourself, but I challenge you to try for more than simple distraction.
Practice shifting your attention to whats going on in the here and now, in your body and your surroundings. Name what you can see, hear, feel, and smell in this moment. Follow the rhythm of your breath for a few minutes. This strengthens your mindfulness muscles, making it easier to prevent yourself from going up the what-if tree next time.
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Whats So Frightening About Death
All life has death in common, yet its striking how little we actually talk about it. In Western cultures at least, the concept can be too much even to consider. But from a clinical psychology perspective, the more we avoid a topic, situation, thought or emotion, the greater the fear of it can become and the more we want to avoid it. A vicious cycle.
If presented with a client who has death anxiety, we would ask them to tell us exactly what they fear about death. Yalom once asked a client what bothered him most. The client replied, The next five billion years with my absence.
Yalom then asked, Were you bothered by your absence during the last five billion years?
The specific death fear will be different for everyone, but it can often be categorised into one of four areas: loss of self or someone else loss of control fear of the unknown what will happen after death and pain and suffering of dying.
Yalom suggests psychologists speak about death directly and early in therapy. The psychologist should find out when the client first became aware of death, who he discussed it with, how the adults in his life responded to his questions and whether his attitudes about death had changed over time.
Once we understand the clients relationship to death, there are several approaches to help manage the associated anxiety. These include existential therapy, cognitive-behaviour therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and compassion-focused therapy.
Why Am I So Scared Of Death Lately
If we cant escape it, then we must find a way to accept it.
Death might be one of the few things we all have in common, and yet the irony is, our fears around it can end up making us feel terribly alone.
Here in the western world, death is still very much a taboo subject. Its something we just dont talk about. This means that when fears come up, we might feel reluctant to share them with the people around us.
Perhaps we dont want to come across as morbid or put a dampener on the mood, or maybe we feel so afraid just thinking about death that we do everything in our power to avoid the subject even coming into conversation.
At some point or other, all of us will be faced with fears about death. After all, what happens when the lights go out remains one of lifes biggest mysteries.
Not only is it normal to fear the unknown but in these current uncertain times, were probably going to find our thoughts turning to our own mortality even more.
And this isnt necessarily a bad thing. In fact, contemplating death can spur us on to make important changes in our lives. It can make us question whether were living a life thats based on our values the things that are important to us.
But and this is an important but whilst thinking about death is normal, worrying about it obsessively is not. If you find yourself stuck in a rut of worry and going to great lengths to avoid having to think or talk about death, then it might point to a deeper issue.
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Fear Of Death From Other Types Of Anxiety
Other types of anxiety are also associated with a fear of death, although this symptom doesnt occur as often in these disorders as compared to panic disorder. These other anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a disorder where the mind often thinks negative and stressful thoughts. One of those thoughts may be about death and dying, and if you think about this thought too much it may develop into a fear or phobia.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Those who develop PTSD after experiencing an especially traumatic event may easily develop a fear of death, often related to the event itself.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder While it may not affect 100% of all of those with OCD, many people develop obsessions about physical danger. For example: “What if I’m hit by a car today?” or “what if these germs kill me?” This may result in a fear of anything that resembles danger, which is very closely related to a fear of death.
How Do I Get Help
Talking therapies, like counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, are very effective for people with anxiety problems, including Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which takes you through a series of self-help exercises on screen. Visit your GP to find out more.
Drug treatments are used to provide short-term help, rather than looking at the root of the anxiety problems. Drugs may be most useful when they are combined with other treatments or support.
You can learn a lot about managing anxiety from asking other people who have experienced it. Local support groups or self-help groups bring together people with similar experiences so that they can hear each others stories, share tips and encourage each other to try out new ways to manage themselves. Your doctor, library or local Citizens Advice bureau will have details of support groups near you.
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