The fear of death, also known as thanatophobia, is something natural in most human beings, since it is an inevitable fact that will come to all of us, sooner or later. The unknown, darkness, suffering and life after death are aspects that have all crossed our minds at some point.
It is also common to think more about death when you suffer from an illness or are exposed to vital danger. Now, when these circumstances do not occur but that fear occupies a large part of our day to day or affects our emotional stability, we could be talking about a phobia of death. So how can we stop being afraid of death?
What exactly is thanotophobia?
Thanatophobia, better known as the fear of dying, is a phobia that implies that people suffer from a very intense fear of dying or of the suffering that they may suffer during the last moments of life. This obsession with death due to the fear of dying can end up being a great difficulty for those who experience it. In fact, many people are afraid of dying due to the process of pain and others because of what ‘nothingness’ or ‘ignorance’ of what is behind this end implies. When these thoughts about death are very frequent, worries can become more troubling fears for those who experience it.
‘I am afraid of death’: When is it a psychological problem?
Most people who suffer from thanatophobia or fear of death also suffer from hypochondria, worry excessively about their health, well, rather about losing it, and constantly check if they are well or not. Either they do not go to the doctor or they have constant check-ups that, far from relaxing their anxiety (yes, it does temporarily), the fear of suffering from a serious illness increases.
However, the fear of dying has no ritual. We cannot get rid of dying and people who worry about this fact think about it a lot, continually think about what that moment will be like and feel an excruciating fear of suffering it. This fear is partly founded, since we do not usually talk about death, we avoid the subject, even when we are little they prevent us from seeing deceased relatives or even commenting that our grandfather, for example, has passed away.
When we talk or are thinking about death, most of us disguise reality with metaphors like: “Grandpa is in heaven” or “Grandpa is gone forever”. Parents get tense when having to explain what death is to their children and this subject is given a dark and terrifying component.
On the other hand, there are cultures in which the subject of death is much more naturalized. From an early age, they become aware of the inevitable and become part of the death rituals. This means that death is considered one more part of life and therefore accepted with courage. In this way, when the fear of death or thanatophobia occupies a significant part of our lives and even interferes in our day to day, we can say that there is a fear of dying that incapacitates us to lead a normal life.
Symptoms of thanatophobia
Although the American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize thanatophobia as a disorder, there are many cases in which the fear of dying is often associated with generalized anxiety disorder. Fear of death and anxiety may be closely related, but thanatophobia may be implicated in other psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress, panic disorders, and hypochondria.
When a person suffers too much fear of dying, on many occasions this can cause both physical and psychological symptoms. Mainly we can identify the following signs that we are facing thanatophobia:
Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures- One of the first symptoms due to the fear of thinking about death is precisely the sensitivity to temperatures. This is usually related to the anguish caused by the phobia of death.
Feeling suffocated- The fear of dying can cause anguish and panic attacks, causing people to feel suffocated when thinking about death in this way. In addition, those individuals who suffer from it may come to believe that these are symptoms of death, making them more afraid of dying.
Find ways to stay young or immortal- Most people who are afraid of dying or suffer from thanatophobia tend to deny their mortality, thus looking for different ways to both stay young and become immortal.
Inability to distinguish reality from fantasy- Another of the most common problems with thanatophobia or fear of the passage of time and death is precisely the inability to distinguish what is real from what is unreal. In this way, the fear of death is preceded by a clear fantasy for the unattainable (not only in matters of death but also in other areas).
Obsessive thoughts of death- When you fear death in many cases you think about it. People who have thanatophobia think excessively and obsessively about this topic; so much so that this can affect their lifestyle. Anxiety- When thinking about death or the phobia of death becomes excessive, people often trigger an anxiety problem. Even in certain cases they can develop irrational fears related to other issues.
The fear of dying or thanatophobia can affect a person’s life in many aspects. If you think you suffer from many of these symptoms of fear of death, you need to do something about it. With work, and with the help of a professional psychologist, you can overcome the fear of death.
Fear of death in children
Thoughts about death in children can be a healthy part of normal child development. If your children are experiencing this phobia of death, it is important to provide them with the support they need in the face of this feeling, since children lack the defense mechanisms or the understanding necessary to cope with this situation. Normally, thanatophobia in children usually disappears at 6 months. When the fear of dying exceeds this period, it is important to see a professional psychologist because of the impact that this phobia of death can have on your life.
Why am I afraid of dying?
There are a number of causes that make people more likely to suffer from the fear of death or thanatophobia. The main reasons of such obsession are identified as follows:
Age- Although it seems illogical, the reality is that young people are the ones who suffer the most fear of death and anxiety related to it. So much so that studies show that people under the age of 20 are more likely to develop a fear of death. Contrary to what it may seem, the older you get, the more you end up losing your fear of death.
Trauma- People who have experienced a traumatic event in their life can experience both a fear of life and a fear of dying. Therefore, thinking about death is associated with the trauma they suffered in the past.
Parents close to death- When a relative, and especially one of the parents, is about to die, children are usually more likely to develop a phobia of death or thanatophobia. In these cases, it is normal to think about death, but it can be a problem if it is done excessively.
Health problems- There are cases in which the person has an obsession with death due to her health problems. In this way, those who suffer from it end up aggravating the symptoms of their disease due to the anguish and the meaning that it has in our mind and body.
These may be some of the causes of the fear of dying. Despite this, there are other reasons why these negative thoughts can develop around this pathological fear.
Thanatophobia and its treatment
When the fear of dying becomes an obsession with death that prevents the normal course of our day to day, it is important to go to therapy with a professional psychologist. The most common treatment for thanatophobia may involve techniques from cognitive-behavioral or psychoanalytic therapies. Also, in some cases where these thoughts about death create a lot of anxiety, psychologists may recommend seeing a psychiatrist to use medications such as benzodiazapines, used to combat anxiety.
There are a number of methods that we can follow to overcome our fear of death. According to psychological therapies, we can overcome the fear of death through these steps:
Accept the inevitable- Death will come; that is a fact. You can spend every day of your life living in fear of life, or you can focus on living your life the way you want to. Death is out of our control, but life is not. Do your best to be proud of the life you have managed to lead. You choose what life you want to live. The best way for us not be afraid of anything is to work on and within ourselves.
Speak naturally about death- Do not continue to create taboos around death. Fears and their meaning in our life, when spoken and shown, tend to be reduced. Talk to friends and family about the losses you’ve had, the fears, and the uncertainty of death. Of course, this topic does not occupy a large part of your day to day. We had said that the first aspect to work on is to focus on living, and would not you want what is remembered about your life is that you were constantly talking about death?
Tolerate uncertainty- We do not know what will happen, how it will be, or if we will suffer or not. Although it is true that there are multiple testimonies from people who have been on the verge of death, who explain that at that moment they feel peace and tranquility, we will not know what really happens until it happens to us. So let’s not get ahead of events. We do not know what will happen in the future, but we can focus on controlling our present. In short, you cannot live in fear of death; therefore, we must accept that this will pass at one time or another in order to enjoy all aspects of our lives.
Explore spirituality and philosophy- Sometimes the best way to overcome the fear of death or even lose the fear of death is precisely by researching and trying to find answers to our concerns. Philosophy and spirituality can be two sources of knowledge around the subject of thinking about death.
Make death a part of your life- The ultimate goal of thinking about death is precisely to try to accept it as part of one’s life. In these cases, instead of seeing death as something negative, we can promote the vision that it is precisely necessary to be able to live.
Focus on your well-being- In order to leave the fear of dying behind, it is essential to work on ourselves. Our interior is vital to face each of the scenarios that life presents us with. In this way, we can stop thinking about death to explore ourselves and get to know ourselves much better. This will make us have a strong attitude towards both life and death.
Seek professional help- If by yourself you cannot reduce the time that this worry is present, or you cannot be at peace, do not hesitate to seeking help from a therapist.
In many cases, the phobia of death or thinking about death too much can cause people to end up leaving their lives. When death monopolizes our thoughts, this already implies a way to stop living our lives. In order to face death, we must know how to overcome the obstacles that life gives us.