Fear of Death

It’s the middle of the night, and everyone is asleep but you.  The later it gets, the more taboo your thoughts become, taking you to a place only accessible in this late, quiet hour.  You begin to think about death.

You might, at first, fear the death of your parents, pre-grieving them.  You might even cry softly into the pillow, overcome with emotion.  After you have grieved your parents, you begin to think about your own death.  It’s a concept too abstract and simply unbelievable to fathom.  At this point you panic or numb out with a sleeping pill.

It is a fact.  We all die. It may seem that there’s nothing to be done about it but live our lives, and push the reality of our inevitable fate out of consciousness.  For some of us, however, doing this seems impossible.  Some of us are unable to forget about death, and live with feelings of pointlessness in the face of it.  Some live with neurotic fear of death veiled in various mental problems and anxiety disorders.

It is important to talk about death in therapy, and find a place of peace with the actuality of it.  Considering the following points can be very helpful when dealing with extreme death anxiety:

What is it about death that scares you?  You would be surprised to find that this answer differs from person to person.  You have to ask yourself:  what does it mean to me to be dead? In other words, what do you think will happen to you when you die?

Consider the fear of death when dealing with OCD:  For many OCD sufferers, the root fear driving compulsions is death, that of oneself or a loved on.  Examining this root fear is helpful in decreasing overall anxiety and increasing the ability to tolerate uncertainty.

Realize that some fear of death is normal:  Everybody is afraid at some point in their lives, and everybody thinks about death, even if they don’t admit it.  Death is a real part of living and we all have to deal with it.

Understand your beliefs about death:  Is death a negative event?  Is the unknown a necessarily scary or bad place?  What are your spiritual beliefs?  How can they help you?  How do they hurt you?  How can you reconcile them?  Does death make life feel pointless to you?  Why?

Are you stuck and unhappy?  Feeling stuck in life can exacerbate and/or bring up fear of death.  Much of the time, death anxiety rears its head when we feel unfulfilled by our lives.  Are there things that you would like to do that you haven’t gotten around to doing?  Is something standing in your way?  Examine the state of your personal life.  Has it been hard to feel loved and valued?

Death of a loved one:  Many people feel death anxiety immediately after the loss of a loved one, particularly a parent or first degree relative.

Visit to a hospital for a medical problem:  It is easy to confronted with possibility of death when faced with a medical illness of some kind.  This often jolts people into dealing with the fact of their own death.

Fear of death increases with parenthood:  It is very normal for new parents to develop a elevated fear of death.  They believe that they need to be alive to take care of their child, to raise the child and see them grow.  They become extra cautious and preoccupied with small dangers.

Terminal Illness:  Most people diagnosed with a terminal illness experience extreme death anxiety, particularly if given a time frame of remaining life.  Being surrounded by loved ones and talking to them about how you feel about your life, your relationship with them, and any regrets you have can be extremely helpful.

Death phobia is like any other phobia.  The best treatment for things you are afraid of is exposure to those very things.  Talk about death. Acknowledge it as a reality. Recognize your feelings, and thoughts about it and your fear will start to subside.  It is possible to  go into the light with a sense of peace and resolution.  Furthermore, resolving death anxiety is good for the act of living. In examining this fear we also illuminate many hidden emotional truths about ourselves and the people we love.