Death/Dying Anxiety and Phobia (Thanatophobia)

Most people don’t like the thought of dying.It’s something that can’t be measured or related to any other situation that we experience. Having some anxiety about death is completely normal, after all, it is the unknown.  However, for some people, like yourself, thinking about death/dying can cause intense anxiety, fear and go on to develop into a life-changing phobia.

Unfortunately, nowadays death and anything related to it is still very much a taboo subject in our society. Children are not encouraged to attend funerals or cemeteries and we are not encouraged to view our loved ones after they have passed away,  which only adds to the unfamiliarity with death that so many grow up with.

One thing is clear,  no one remembers their actual birth!  Being born is a natural process and so don’t you think that death might be too?  Prior to passing into unconsciousness you are still alive and functioning.

What is it that you’re afraid of?  Is it pain or discomfort?  You have most probably experienced both in your life and coped.  At this point you are still in this world and able to make known your needs.  When you slip into unconsciousness that is the actual moment of death and you will not be aware.  This cannot be so terrifying because you have been doing something similar all of your life.  Slipping into unconsciousness is just like the experience of going to sleep. You know that one moment you are alert and the next you are asleep.  Yet you are not aware of this moment happening.

Going to sleep is an unconscious act.  You can’t actually make yourself go to sleep.  Sleep is normal, like sneezing when you have a cold, you expect it to happen.  Sleeping is nature’s way of renewing and recharging our minds and bodies so that we can live a healthy life.  When we come to the end of our time here, the winding down is not some traumatic event but an expected conclusion, as natural as birth.  Quite literally we are freed from control or knowledge.  Sleep releases us from all our doubts and fears, anxiety is gone.  It is only when we are awake and conscious that our fears return.  We have lived with the unknown every moment, every day of our lives since we were born and dealt with all that has been thrown at us, so there is no reason to think that death will be any different. Bear in mind that dying is as natural as being born and that nothing about the experience will register on your consciousness.

Thinking about death and what comes after can be frightening,  whether you believe in an afterlife or not.  But actually, the only solution is to expose yourself to situations and desensitise your body and mind from the things that terrify you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the method that at the present time has the highest success rate. CBT is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behavior) all interact together. Realising that death is part of life, just as natural as being born and that it is something that every single one of us has in common is important to help move past the fear. We need to stare death in the face instead of turning away and pretending it doesn’t happen.

So let’s have a look at ways you can help yourself.

  • Talk about your fear with friends and family, therapists and doctors or with charities like No Panic. Keeping things bottled up always makes them worse, so get your worries/thoughts of your chest. The more you talk about the subject the better.
  • Read about death, exposure to the subject is part of the process.
  • Try not fighting or running from the thoughts that are making you anxious, instead accept what you are experiencing is a bunch of symptoms that cannot actually harm you.
  • Calm your body and mind and flow through these feelings. Using the No Panic exercises on our website will help you.

  • As time goes on, it is recommended to actually invite the thoughts that scare you in. It is important to remember that the anxiety you feel will reach a point but will then diminish if you stick with it, (using the above exercises will help you do this). No Panic’s one-to-one mentoring or group recovery services might be an option if you feel you can’t do this alone:
  • Another thing to focus on is, live your life to the fullest. We only die once but we live every day. Here are a few tips on how to do this:

    * Learning relaxation techniques will help reduce anxiety/panic symptoms should they arrive:

    * Exercise releases endorphins which are hormones that make us naturally feel good. Exercise also increases our body temperature which can have a calming effect as well as burning off excess energy that can lead to anxiety. You are not expected to do a marathon or a gym class five times a week but a little something EVERY day.

    * Diet is very important. It is very easy to eat too little or too much. Food is energy, therefore important in the upkeep of our body and the way it functions. You wouldn’t expect your car to run properly without it having the proper fuel, it is the same for your body. There are no banned foods, just moderation. For example Not too much caffeine but there is no need to cut out your beloved cup of tea or coffee entirely. A well-balanced diet is all that is necessary. Carbohydrates are the perfect food to give staying power. Little and often is also a good tip, this keeps our sugar levels balanced.
    One very essential thing is the importance of breakfast. After a night’s sleep, our body needs re-fuelling. So however hard it may be for some people, please eat something after getting up, a slice of toast and porridge or even a banana.

    * Cease fighting the anxiety. When our bodies slip into fear mode, the automatic response is fight. This can lead to a vicious circle of the more we fight, the more we fear. And at times, this can even lead to avoidance.

    * Rest when you need it. Anxiety can be exhausting and it is common knowledge that our bodies and minds do not function as well when we are tired. A regular bedtime routine is always recommended. If you tend to have a brain that goes into overdrive just as you are tucking down, write down on paper any worries or fears and promise yourself you will take care of them the following day.

Read Elvira’s inspirational recovery story here…

How can No Panic help?
No Panic specialises in self-help recovery and our services include:
Providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery.
Our aim is to give you all of the necessary advice, tools and support that you will need to recover and carry out this journey. No Panic Recovery Programs


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