Fear of Death and Death Anxiety is one of the most common but misunderstood types of worry that people suffer from. When we approach our 50s, it’s natural to begin to be concerned about our mortality. Many of us begin to consider the possibility of having fewer years ahead of us than behind us. Some people may develop a fear of death, regardless of how far away it is.
With this guide, I hope that people will have a greater understanding of their fear of death and be able to work through it in a healthy way.
In this post, 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.
Before we begin, you should be aware of the following:
It’s only a matter of time before you die. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise to you. I agree that the shortness of human life is inconvenient. Thankfully, for most of us, this terrifying reality lurks just beyond our awareness: we’re ‘aware’ of our mortality without continuously fearing it.
There are, however, times when the truth of our impending death hits us in a fresh, chillier light. A close call emphasizes the fragility of life, while the death of a loved one reminds us that no one is immune to humanity’s ultimate fate. Even discussing death, as we are right now, can elicit ruminative contemplation on the end, as well as a shudder of terror about one’s own demise.
The fact of death is perceived in a new way in these moments when your impending dissipation shows itself again. Rather than simply being ‘known’ as another humdrum world statement – ‘The sky is blue.’ I’m going to die’ — the realization that one’s life is coming to an end becomes more intense and immediate.
The horror of death penetrates into your sense of yourself as a person in these emotions, making you feel small and powerless because of its awesome inevitability and finality. This is the existential fear of death, brought on by the almost inconceivable realization that there is and will only ever be one of you and that it will flicker out of existence sooner or later, leaving little more than memories in the minds of other soon-to-be-gone creatures. The uncomfortable fact that the individual who got the debt in the first place is but a transitory speck of an event in the endless history of the Universe is what I’m talking about when I say “fear of death.”
Thinking about how terrible mortality is to us; how there is no bigger blow in life than death heightens our fear of dying. Death, as philosopher Thomas Nagel put it, is the greatest deprivation. There is always more life to be lived, and having that taken away is heartbreaking.
Perhaps contemplating the extremely excruciating concept of your future absence is the greatest approach to overcome this fear: one day, a place will no longer be set for you at family dinners. The newspaper will be published the day after you die, just as it was the day before. Friends will make their morning coffee the morning following your funeral. But you’ll be gone for good, and that’s a scary obstacle to overcome.
As a result, the fear of death is horrifying to witness and, consequently, something to overcome. Indeed, I would argue that overcoming the dread of death has sparked a significant deal of thought throughout humanity’s history on Earth: one could even argue that figuring out how to avoid, or even tolerate, death is at the basis of a vast number of cultural triumphs. The fear of extinction is a potent motivator.
So how can the fear of death be overcome? Here are a few tips, based on the advice of other people over 50 who have conquered their fear of dying.
1. Take Charge of Your Life
Spend meaningful time with the people that make you happy. Experiment with new ideas. Put yourself to the test. Above all, stay active and involved in constructive activities. If there’s something that bothers you, do something about it! Take care of any unfinished business you may have! Make the call if you have someone you need to speak with.
Decide not to go to a job that you despise or stay in a relationship that makes you sad. You don’t have a long time to experience all that life has to offer. It’s important that you spend your time doing things that are worthwhile to you.
The fear of death is frequently the worry of not being able to live your life on your own terms. You are deserving of seeing your ambitions realized. The more you enjoy life, the less afraid you will be to let it go when the time comes!
2. Recognize that death is a part of life.
Recognizing ourselves as part of a larger cycle and finding solace in the thought that everyone else must pass through the same rites of passage: conception, birth, and death can help us adjust.
“Like the child being delivered, we have no choice but to give ourselves to the unknown,” near-death researcher Norman Van Rooy famously said. You have the option of seeing your body and your contribution to the world as a source of honour. We have been given the gift of life; therefore, let us be grateful and accept death when it comes.
Many authors have written on their own ruminations and musings on death. In addition, religious leaders, philosophers, and mystics have amassed a vast library dedicated to the hereafter. Their works might not be able to tell you exactly what happens when you die. They might, however, assist you in addressing the equally essential concerns of why we’re here and how we should prepare for the hereafter.
3. Embrace Deep Rituals
Rituals are vital for generating a feeling of purpose in life, whether you are religious or not. They also ensure that our existence is not disrupted.
It might be as basic as going for a stroll every afternoon or lighting a candle every morning to create a ritual. You can detect a seasonal shift or a change in your mental or physical state in your life. It is entirely up to you to make your decision.
Now is the time to learn more about your family’s religious customs or to experiment with new spiritual concepts. Don’t be scared to ask about the afterlife’s “difficult” questions. These are the only questions that have the capacity to lead you to a greater knowledge of your faith – or any other part of your life.
4. Concentrate on living a healthy lifestyle
There are numerous simple things you may take to improve your health and happiness. In truth, often the tiniest changes result from the most constant actions. Make a daily commitment to walk, rain or shine. Pursue your interests. Make a “bucket list” of all the incredible things you wish to achieve before you pass away. You won’t have time to worry about dying if you’re too busy living.
5. Make a plan for your death.
Many of our questions regarding death are philosophical or religious in nature. What about the practical difficulties, though? Many of us are afraid of death because we are concerned about what will happen to our families when we pass away. Are our grandchildren going to be happy? Will our partner be able to cope with our death? Will they have enough money to live the life they deserve if that is the case?
6. Recognize the source of your dread of dying in the past.
For many people who battle with death anxiety, it can feel as if it appeared out of nowhere, gradually or suddenly becoming a major source of stress in their lives. The ignorance regarding the causes of death fear can make the whole experience that much more difficult because it can feel awkward or even humiliating to be struggling with something you don’t understand.
The good news is that you don’t need to comprehend why you’re afraid of dying in order to overcome it. Having some clarity on where this anxiety comes from can be both validating and reassuring. When you have at least a basic awareness of its origins, it can also assist in empowering you to work through it.
7. Recognize the habits that keep your fear of death alive in the present.
I battled for a long time to develop the habit of flossing my teeth every night. However, a few years ago, my dentist informed me that I was at risk of gum disease, which was frightening! So, that afternoon, I went out and bought some floss, and my evening flossing routine was formed.
I floss almost every night now and have done so for several years. But here’s the thing: even though fear of gum disease prompted my flossing practice in the first place, it’s no longer the driving force behind it. I floss now because it makes me feel good and gives me a sense of success and joy, rather than because I’m afraid of gum disease.
The thing that started a habit in the past isn’t always the same thing that keeps it continuing now.
Here’s a specific example of death-related fear:
Witnessing your father die of a heart attack when you were young may have been the original or initial cause of your fear of death. However, you may have developed a pattern of avoiding death-related topics over time leaving talks when the subject of death is brought up, refusing to watch films in which death is a part of the plot, and so on.
While avoiding death-related issues temporarily relieves anxiety, it actually trains your brain to be more fearful of death. Or, to put it another way, you’re teaching it to be terrified of death. So now, whenever the subject of death comes up, your brain makes you even more apprehensive because you’ve conditioned your brain to fear it by avoiding it. Your father’s death has had minimal effect on the degree of your fear of death at this point. Instead, your tendency of avoiding death-related issues is what is causing it to persist and worsen.
So, while understanding the origins of your dread of death might be beneficial and validating, it’s virtually never a solution because those origins are rarely what’s keeping the fear alive right now. To truly cope with your fear of death, you must first identify the current reasons for your dread and attempt to resolve them.
8. Take control of your worrying habit.
Worry is the harmful and anxiety-inducing habit of thinking about the future.
Of course, we worry from time to time, especially when it comes to things as frightening and uncertain as death. Chronic concern, on the other hand, is when you’ve developed a habit of worrying compulsively and excessively. When you acquire a habit of worrying about mortality on a regular basis, it increases your fear of dying.
The rationale is simple: worry signals to your brain’s fear centre that you believe something is hazardous. When your brain notices you worrying about something again and over, it perceives it as a danger. This implies that the next time you come across that thing, your brain will pump you full of adrenaline to deal with the threat, thereby increasing your anxiety.
Death is, of course, dangerous in and of itself. The problem is that most individuals who are frightened of death have developed a practice of worrying about things that are related to death, and as a result, their brains have been conditioned to be terrified of not only death but also of all sorts of things that are even remotely related to death.
For example, if you start worrying about what it will be like to be sick, dying, and in pain in a hospital every time the subject of death comes up, you may develop anxiety about hospitals and medical care. Your fear of death has now turned into a fear of all things medical, and vice versa.
9. Find a healthy approach to deal with your death anxiety sensations.
Everyone and their dog has suggestions for various coping methods to help you deal with your anxieties and anxiety. However, you must use caution when dealing with your fears. Even though coping strategies make you feel better in the short term, they might easily exacerbate your anxieties and doubts in the long run.
Consider deep breathing, a coping technique that is frequently recommended for people who suffer from anxiety. It’s true that taking a few deep breaths can have a profoundly relaxing effect on you. The problem is that if you instantly begin deep breathing to prevent feeling nervous, you are teaching your brain that feeling uncomfortable is not acceptable. So, even if you feel a little better in the short run, the unintentional long-term effect will be to make you nervous about being anxious.
This implies you’ll get a double dosage of anxiety the next time you get anxious since you’ve taught your brain to be terrified of being afraid!
Avoid using coping skills as an avoidance strategy at all costs. It’s vital to first legitimize the fear itself if you want to manage your anxieties and worries about dying in a healthy way one that doesn’t make them worse in the long run.
10. Recognize the difference between fear of death and fear of dying.
Many people who are afraid of death make the mistake of thinking they are afraid of dying:
Fear of death is commonly defined as a fear of what happens after death, the repercussions of death, or what death signifies. For example, many people’s fear of death stems from their inability to predict what will happen to them once they die. Fear of death is, in some ways, an existential fear.
The fear of dying, on the other hand, is usually focused on the process of death specifically, the agony and suffering that may be associated with the act of dying itself. In this scenario, being afraid of death could mean something more particular, such as a worry of how terrible it will be to die of cancer. Or if you’re going to die alone.
Figuring out if you’re afraid of death or fear dying is more than simply an academic distinction; it’s also beneficial since certain tactics are more helpful for each. If you’re dealing with a fear of death, for example, it might be helpful to engage in some exploratory therapy to examine what death means to you and what kinds of ideas you hold about death. Existential psychotherapy can be extremely beneficial in this situation.
If your fear of dying is more about the physical pain of dying, one of the most helpful things you can do is talk to medical professionals or counsellors who specialize in end-of-life scenarios to get a more accurate and realistic picture of what the dying process looks like for most people and/or what it’ll be like for you. Working with a cognitive-behavioural therapist to address inaccurate attitudes and beliefs about death may also be therapeutic.
11. Arrange “death conversations” with people who will be supportive.
The concept that one is alone is one of the most powerful basic beliefs that keeps many people bound in their fear of death. Because death isn’t something most people talk about in normal conversation, it’s easy to assume that other people don’t think about or fear it.
While it’s true that most people don’t have a strong fear of death, it’s a mistake to assume that they don’t think about it at all not just because it’s inaccurate (they do), but also because it makes you feel even more alienated and alone in your anxieties, which only adds to the problem.
If you can have more genuine dialogues with other people about death, on the other hand, you will feel far less alone in your anxieties. It’s a lot simpler to go through things in a healthy way when you don’t feel so alone.
So, here’s a quick and easy method to feel less alone in your fear of death: Ask someone you trust and are generally comfortable opening up to if they’d be good with you having some particular conversations regarding death. The discussions can be rather informal and don’t have to be about your dread of death in particular they could be partially philosophical, about how death is depicted in cinema and literature and what you think about it, or about how society as a whole views death.
The objective is that by having a conversation about it, you remind yourself that you are not alone. And it’s a rather empowering thing to be reminded of one that can greatly assist you with the rest of these tips, as well as your overall work to overcome the fear of death. You don’t have to term them “death conversations” by the way. That’s a bit intense, and if I’m being honest, I used it because it’s catchy. You may call them mortality discussions, the meaning of life discussions, or Big Conversations. It doesn’t really matter what you call yourself.
12. Begin to read obituaries.
At the end of the day, confronting your fear of death is the only way to truly handle it. This is because facing mortality teaches your brain that, while unpleasant and frightening, the notion of death isn’t inherently hazardous. When it comes to death, the more your brain thinks this, the more assured (and less terrified) you’ll feel.
Reading obituaries in the newspaper is a simple technique you can establish to start doing this. There are a few things about this technique that are particularly beneficial:
This practice forces you to address your anxieties about mortality rather than avoiding them. And, in the end, that’s the only way to get over your fear of death. It’s also quite basic and straightforward to implement. The majority of obituaries are short and may be read in a minute or two. This implies you may make it a habit to do it on a regular basis, even every day. And the more you encounter mortality on a regular basis, the faster you’ll get over it.
Obituaries are far more pleasant and interesting than morbid and frightening. In fact, many people I know who began this practice continue to do so long after they’ve overcome their fear of death, simply because they find it fascinating and delightful.
Finally, reading obituaries is a wonderful opportunity to express gratitude. Reminding yourself of the fact of death will not only help you overcome your fear of death, but it will also help you appreciate life. And, as corny as it may sound, life is truly a gift that should be savoured.
So, if you’re looking for a basic and clear way to start working through your fear of death, start reading obituaries in your local daily or online. I believe the experience will pleasantly surprise you.
13. Find a creative way to express your fear of dying.
Creative action is one of the most underestimated anxiety treatments. This is also true for death anxiety, as I’ve discovered. Misdirected energy is one way to think about unhelpful fear and worry. When you’re engaged in a cycle of worry and anxiety, you’re obviously expending a lot of energy. And it usually simply makes you unhappy and prevents you from achieving much.
What if you could channel that energy into something more productive, pleasurable, and meaningful? Having a modest creative practice that you can jump into whenever you find yourself thinking about death is a simple experiment you may try as a technique to deal with the heightened dread of death.
14. Dont ignore the Spirituality of death
Several studies have found that those with strong faith and belief systems are considerably less likely to be afraid of death or dying. Tanishia Pearson-Jones, a great mother and writer who died at the age of 36 following a two-year fight with a rare form of cancer, was one of them.
She fought to the end, never faltering in her religious views, and she did not fear death when it came. Her decency and grace, even in the face of death, inspired many people who knew her or heard about her battle through social media. If you were raised with a strong faith system, like Tanishia, embrace it. If not, look into alternative religious ideas and spiritual activities that you are interested in.
If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular religion or its practices, developing healthy rituals can be a good alternative for dealing with your fear of dying. You might imagine something as ornate as an altar with incense when you hear the word “ritual,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. This ritualistic activity can be as simple as lighting a candle when you get up or go to bed, going for a walk in the afternoon, or journaling about your thoughts.
15. See if existential therapy is right for you.
While numerous types of talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, have been demonstrated to be effective in addressing and working with death fears, existential psychotherapy has proven to be particularly effective.
Existential therapy focuses on problems of death, purpose, and responsibility, which are typically central to a person’s death worries. It’s frequently easier to get to the root causes of death anxiety that are more philosophical or existential in nature when you engage with a therapist who specializes in these concerns.
If you believe your fear of death is linked to a struggle to find meaning and purpose in your life, an existential therapist may be able to help you figure out what a meaningful existence looks like for you and what barriers stand in your way. Furthermore, if you have a natural philosophical inclination, existential therapy can be rather pleasurable, as it can be difficult to find other individuals in life to relate to on this level.
If you want to learn more about existential therapy and see if it’s right for you, this book is a great place to start: The Wiley Handbook of Existential Therapy is a comprehensive guide on existential therapy.
At the end of the day, the advice you can take from this guide that will help you beat your fear of death is simple: focus on living authentically, passionately and well. Fear of death cannot take root in the heart of a person who is truly satisfied with their life.
Are you afraid of death? Why or why not? What advice would you give to a friend who is struggling with a fear of death? Please join the conversation. Please leave a comment below and share this article to keep the conversation going.