Death is a mystery; it’s a fact of life that is so unknown and finite. Our society tries everything in its power to run away from death and escape it, even for just for a little bit longer.
Whilst many of us wonder about the unknown after death and may even be a little scared of it, a true fear of death is something deeper and can seep into our lives. Fearing death can feel very isolating, but it may help to know that it’s more common than you might think.
Thanatophobia - the fear of death
This fear or anxiety that we can feel around death is a real phobia known as thanatophobia, the extreme fear of death or the dying process. You might be afraid of your own death, the people you love dying or worry about leaving loved ones behind when you die. Many people who fear death will also experience separation anxiety.
The difference between a general fear of death and thanatophobia is when the fears persist and manifest in such a way that it interferes with your daily life. It might stop you from going about your normal activities and even leaving the house, or it might keep you up all night with worry and panic attacks about death.
Diagnosis and symptoms of death anxiety
Whilst you can get a doctor to diagnose thanatophobia, most people don't need a professional diagnosis to understand that what they’re feeling is a phobia. However, seeing a mental health professional could be extremely beneficial to work through healing and facing your fears.
Anxiety and fear of death is considered a phobia if the fear:
- Impacts everyday life or relationships.
- Emerges almost every time a person thinks about dying.
- Persists for more than 6 months.
Some key symptoms of thanatophobia include:
- General feelings of depression or anxiety.
- Instant fear or anxiety when thinking about dying or the process of dying.
- Panic attacks when thinking about death or dying.
- Avoiding situations where thinking about death or dying may be necessary.
- Feeling sick or experiencing stomach pains when thinking about death or dying.
Learning to overcome our fears
Phobias can be incredibly isolating, as you may feel like nobody can understand what you’re going through. However, opening up about your fears and anxiety is a huge step towards healing, as the secret and the fear we feel is often intensified when we keep it in. If you have somebody in your life who you feel safe with and trust confiding in, please reach out to them and open up about your fear.
As for facing this fear, it can be as simple as embracing life. Be curious and fill your life with joy. We never know when the end will come, but we do know it’s coming and unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about it.
Our anxieties can sometimes be a positive emotion, as we are trying to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a threat. However, sometimes what we perceive as a threat may not be as imminent or as scary as our minds lead us to believe.
The chances of you being alive is virtually zero
Now this might seem like a big stretch, but having a different perspective on life may help overcome your fear of death. According to Dr Ali Binazir, the chances of you being alive are so tiny and small that it’s almost a miracle that you’re here today and you are who you are.
Essentially by the time your parents meet and fall in love and stay together and decide to have kids and then they have you, that’s already 1 in 400 quadrillion. You are the culmination of generation after generation after generation, and the fact that we all exist on this big floating rock of a planet is pretty cool. If your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents made one different decision, you might not exist. Hopefully this kind of thinking makes you want to take advantage of life and truly live, rather than constantly fearing death.
Changing the conversation about death
There is no quick fix to facing your fears, and because our society isn’t death literate, having open and candid conversations about death is rare. What we’re hoping to achieve at Bare is normalising death and opening up those conversations, so hopefully these fears can start to disappear and our society can embrace death.
If you need immediate help, please reach out to one of these 24 hour emergency hotlines:
- Lifeline - 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue - 1300 224 636