Death Anxiety: 9 Ways to Overcome Your
Fear of Death
Katelyn Hagerty FNP
Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/25/2022
Death scares us all, and it’s likely that the people who say otherwise are lying. Death anxiety is real. Religious, spiritual or otherwise, we’ve all got questions about the big unknown, and what happens after we die — that’s part of life.
If fear of death is normal, however, being crippled or paralyzed by that fear (read: having anxiety) 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, it’s helpful to understand why you’re feeling this way.
Fear of Death 101
Fear of death is a phobia, and like other phobias it does have a special name: thanatophobia. Fear of death or fear of mortality is easy to define: it’s the fear of the end of life.
Okay, if you’re saying that not wanting to die is a rational fear, you’re not wrong. But what about when it becomes irrational, or when the fear becomes so invasive and oppressive that it keeps you from enjoying the time you do have? That fear of death is something we don’t want — and it’s turned into anxiety about death.
Fear of death may affect us at any time, but it tends to receive the most attention for the population of people at retirement age, or around 65, who are beginning to reflect on achievements, disappointments and their life trajectories.
Terminally ill individuals of all ages may also experience a form of modified thanatophobia.
Fear of death is normal to an extent, but a fear of death is characteristically more debilitating in people who are overwhelmed by it, and suffer from a mental health disorder like panic disorder, anxiety, depressive disorders and hypochondriasis.
Why We Fear Death
We don’t have a great picture of why some people experience debilitating death anxiety and why others don’t, but there’s a fair amount of research showing that certain people are more likely to deal with dread of death in their lifetimes.
People who are retired, elderly or terminally ill are common groups affected by the fear of death.
It’s fair to assume that this is because for these groups, the fear of death may represent a more acute, immediate and quantifiable “end” than for those who don’t have an expectation that death is just around the corner.
But death anxiety also tends to affect some people more severely, based on a variety of mental health factors. Fear of death may more intensely affect people who are experiencing mental disorders or who may be dealing with the following:
Lack of fighting spirit
Lack of religious beliefs
Lack of intimacy in relationships
Lack of fulfillment
Fear of death can more adversely affect people who are anxious or depressed, or who are dealing with unresolved distress, psychologically or physically.
Interestingly, people adjacent to those who are elderly or terminally ill also can develop a fear of death more frequently.
A 2010 report showed that death anxiety could not only impact patients suffering from terminal diseases like AIDS and advanced cancer, but it could also affect family caregivers. In fact, the caregivers showed symptoms of death anxiety similar to those dying from illness.
That said, the symptoms of death anxiety felt by the terminally ill were measurably greater.
Gets Out of Control
Like almost any other type of anxiety, fear-of-death anxiety gets out of control when it begins to negatively impact your daily function.
A person who experiences fear of death at an out-of-control level may experience intensely negative feelings of panic, worry, unease and uncertainty with regards to their thoughts about death.
These feelings may lead to one or more telltale symptoms of anxiety such as: insomnia, stomach issues, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and even some miscellaneous aches.
If you’re becoming negatively impacted by your fear of death, you might be dealing with anxiety about death — and getting mental health treatment may be a beneficial decision for you to make.
Overcoming Fear of Death: How to Treat Death Anxiety
Dealing with death anxiety is a complicated process, whether you’re terminally ill or not. Mortality is a hard topic to grapple with, whether you’re 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:
Studies show exercise can help in the management of anxiety. It may also help your body stay healthier for longer, which can increase life expectancy.
The inevitability of death has been a cornerstone topic for many religious and spiritual philosophies, and it’s no surprise that a search for peace has led in many cases to meditation practices.
Meditation is a great way to employ breathing techniques and other tools to quiet those intrusive thoughts about death over time.
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