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How To Overcome Death Anxiety

Is It Normal To Be Afraid Of Death

Health Anxiety Part 2: Learn How to Face Your Fear of Death and Overcome Health Anxiety

Within certain limits, yes.

Fear of death is entirely normal and, quite often, it is tied to a persons religious beliefs. For example, in many religions, the concept of life after death is tied to punishment, so many people fear that they will suffer the consequences of their mistakes.

According to one study, 20% of people are afraid or very afraid of dying, making thanatophobia one of the most common fears. To a certain degree, normal fear of death can be a good thing because it makes us more cautious, helps us cherish meaningful experiences, and evaluate the values that guide us.

Contemplating your own mortality and wondering what happens when you die is not abnormal, and if the thought of it makes you a bit uncomfortable, you shouldnt be worried. Death is not an easy topic. However, if death is constantly on your mind, and death anxiety is affecting your everyday life, to the point where you experience physical symptoms and feel overwhelmed by it, that could be a sign you need

Overcome Death Anxiety: The Development Of An Online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Programme For Fears Of Death

Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 September 2021

School of Psychology, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Louise Sharpe
School of Psychology, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Fjóla Dögg Helgadóttir
School of Psychology, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
*Corresponding author: Rachel E. Menzies, School of Psychology, Brennan MacCallum Building , The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW2006, Australia. Email:

My Death Anxiety Story

It all began when I turned 18. My boyfriend broke up with me, I had finals coming up, and on top of everything, I wasnt sleeping well. I was smoking, drinking, and not taking good care of myself. My body was trying to send me a message, but I ignored it over and over again.

One day, I experienced my first panic attack. It felt as if I was dying. It was the scariest thing Ive ever experienced in my entire life.

Then, I realized I was terrified of death. I became so afraid of it that I almost couldnt go out and go to school because I feared that I wouldnt make it back home because something terrible would happen to me.

Fast forward to one year later, my panic attacks stopped, I quit smoking, heavily reduced my drinking, and started taking better care of my health.

Everything was going great until last year.

Its when I found out that my grandpa had cancer and only a month later, he passed away. Id never lost anyone close to me before and we had a very beautiful relationship, so it felt as if I had lost my best friend.

The funeral caused me to feel all types of feelings and my death anxiety came back. I didnt have panic attacks this time. It was more like flashes of general anxiety, mixed with hypochondria. I started to imagine what it felt like to die, to get ill, I had dreams about losing my loved ones, etc.

Here are my 4 tips on how to stop worrying about death and start enjoying life more:

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Try Some Existential Therapy

While several forms of talk therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy have been shown to be quite helpful for exploring and working through fear of death, theres a specific approach called existential psychotherapy that is often especially helpful.

Existential therapy focuses on issues of death, meaning, and responsibility that are often key factors in a persons fears of death. By working with a therapist who specializes in these types of issues, its often easier to get to core causes of death anxiety that are more philosophical or existential in nature.

For example, if you think your fear of death is connected to a struggle to find meaning and purpose in your life, an existential therapist might be able to help you uncover what a meaningful life really looks like for you and what the obstacles to pursuing that are.

Plus, if youre someone who naturally has a more philosophical bent then existential therapy can also be quite enjoyable since it can be hard to find other people in life to relate to on this level.

If youre curious about existential therapy and whether it might be a good fit for you, this book is a very good introduction: The Wiley Handbook of Existential Therapy

Ways To Overcome Your Fear Of Death And Death Anxiety

Expert Advice on How to Overcome the Fear of Death

Fear of death is one of the more common but misunderstood forms of anxiety people struggle with.

As a psychologist, I spent years helping people to better understand their fear of death and work through it in a healthy way. And thats exactly what Im going to do with this guide.

You will learn:

  • How to discover the origins of your fear of death.
  • Identify habits and patterns in your life that are making it worse.
  • And over a dozen specific strategies anyone can use to work through it.

Lets dive in!

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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.

Key Point:

The habit of chronic worry only intensifies and generalizes your fear of death.

Clarify Your Values And Purpose

No matter how hard you work, fear of death is not something you can ever get rid of completely. The question, then, is how do we keep it to a manageable sizeone that doesnt cause us too much distress and interfere too much with our lives?

I would suggest that at a certain point it becomes less about minimizing your fear of death and more about getting on with your life despite some lingering death anxiety.

And this is where values and purpose become important.

Having a clear sense of your values and purposethings that really matter to you and give you energyis a tremendous advantage when it comes to refocusing your mind off of your anxieties about death and getting on with life because they serve to outcompete your worries and anxieties.

Imagine two teams playing tug-of-war:

  • Team A is full of strong anxieties and fears about death. These guys are beefy and exert a pretty strong force pulling your attention and focus in their direction.
  • Team B is your values and purposethe things that really matter to you in life and that youre passionate about. This could be something as small as a hobby or favorite pastime or as big as a political cause you volunteer time for or a major art project youre working on.

Of course, getting more clarity on your values is no small task. But every little bit helps when it comes to your ability to resist the pull of worry and move on from fear of death.

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Overcoming Fear Of Death: How To Treat Death Anxiety

Dealing with death anxiety is a complicated process, whether youre terminally ill or not. Mortality is a hard topic to grapple with, whether youre healthy or not.

If the fear of death overwhelms you, seeking out standard treatments for anxiety, professional help, or learning healthy coping mechanisms can be your ticket to relief and control over these emotions.

That said, here are nine ways to help manage your fear of death:

Fear Of Pain Illness Or Loss Of Dignity

Facing Fear of Death: 4 Skills for Anxiety and Fear of Death and Dying

Some people with an apparent fear of death do not actually fear death itself. Instead, they are afraid of the circumstances that often surround the act of dying. They may be afraid of crippling pain, debilitating illness, or even the associated loss of dignity.

This type of thanatophobia may be identified through careful questioning about the specifics of the fear. Many people with this type of fear also suffer from nosophobia , illness anxiety disorder, or other somatoform disorders.

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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 83% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 1,392,557 times.

Death Anxiety: 9 Ways To Overcome Your Fear Of Death

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Death scares us all, and its likely that the people who say otherwise are lying. Death anxiety is real. Religious, spiritual or otherwise, weve all got questions about the big unknown, and what happens after we die thats part of life.

If fear of death is normal, however, being crippled or paralyzed by that fear is not necessarily normal nor a good thing.

Having anxiety about dying should not keep you from living.

Read on for nine ways to overcome your fear-of-death anxiety. But first, its helpful to understand why youre feeling this way.

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Death Anxiety And Covid

Millions of people around the world have died from COVID-19 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With constant reminders of death and disease overshadowing nearly every aspect of life during the pandemic, overall feelings of death anxiety have increased a great deal. Those who fear that they are more prone to contracting and dying from COVID-19 have higher levels of death anxiety and are more susceptible to general psychological disturbances such as depression, anxiety, stress, and paranoia. Elderly individuals, who were already likely to experience death anxiety outside of a pandemic situation, now find their fear of death largely exacerbated. The fear of dying from COVID-19 has also been one of the leading factors in psychological distress among general populations during the course of the pandemic. Studies have found that anxiety brought on by COVID-19 not only leads to the general fear of death, but also to xenophobia and hostility to people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, specifically those of Asian descent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, death anxiety has been a large contributor to declining mental wellbeing among those working in helping professions such as nursing and social work.

It Is Possible To Overcome Anxiety Around Death

How to overcome the fear of death

There’s an old spiritual phrase, “what you resist persists.” A succinct maxim that speaks to how avoiding something only intensifies its presence in one’s life. Trying not to think about that debt you owe? Get ready to wake up at 4 am until you confront it. Across varying cultures and economic brackets, no thought gets avoided more often than human mortality.

When attempting to dismantle a fear, psychologists may suggest a practice known as immersion therapy. Or to use another succinct maxim, “face your fears.” In the case of death, immersion therapy proves to be a tad trickier in execution than other phobias. In his Vice YouTube series Spiraling, Zeke Spector does the unthinkable and actually runs towards a very controlled- near-death experience.

In the video linked above, Zeke chats with experts aplenty about how to live comfortably with the idea of dying. Given that we’re all still embroiled in a global battle against Covid-19, the topic seems more relevant than ever.

Also Check: What To Do When Anxiety Is Overwhelming

What Is The Research About Death Anxiety

Unfortunately, research on the effects of treatment for death anxiety are somewhat limited. However, there have been some findings from related areas, primarily when the treatment is for individuals with chronic diseases. One review from 2018 looked at the effect of various therapies on individuals who had advanced cancer. The reviews findings suggested that interventions focused on helping people find meaning in their life were the most effective at treatment for death anxiety.

For example, doing acts of kindness every day for the remainder of your life can be a fun, easy way to add meaning to your life while battling a terminal illness. You can mail cards to friends and family explaining why you love them. Wish all your friends on Facebook a happy birthday every time the notification comes up. You can spend quality time with loved ones on a short nature walk.

Another meta-analysis was done in people who did not have severe diseases. They found that cognitive-behavioral therapy was one of the most effective treatments. Group desensitization was also found to reduce death fears compared to other types of treatments. However, these studies were pretty limited as they had a broad range of individuals with various mental health conditions.

What Causes Death Anxiety

Since this is not a distinct disorder, it may be challenging to understand the cause of death anxiety. Phobias are often triggered by a specific event in the past, even if its not remembered. If a person experienced a traumatic event related to their being at risk of dying or having a loved one die, they might be reliving this anxiety.

Individual health can also be a risk for developing death anxiety. For example, a person who has a significant illness will likely be thinking about the end of life and may be more anxious. Older adults tend to have higher levels of anxiety, which is understandable. Women are also more likely to experience death anxiety, although its not well-understood why they would. However, women may fear death more due to media stories about the lack of safety women experience, heightened anxiety levels overall, or a difference in brain chemistry compared to men.

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