Sometimes the fear of dying can turn into an irrational fear. The notion that we will one day no longer exist can be so crippling for some people that it begins to interfere with their daily quality of life. This specific phobia has a name. Thanatophobia, or death anxiety, is a term used to describe a fear of death or the process of dying.
Many people are plagued by a crippling fear of dying. While some fear of death is normal and healthy, a crippling fear that prevents you from fully participating in your life is obviously unhealthy. Treatment for this anxiety disorder is, fortunately, completely doable.
Symptoms of Thanatophobia
Thanatophobia may be caused by a variety of psychological factors, according to a study published just last year. It observed that thanatophobia is more common amongst patients who have:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of Religious belief
- Health issues
- A sense of purposelessness in life Problems with intimacy with loved ones and acquaintances
The study concluded that there’s a lack of uniformity across the globe when it comes to helping people manage an intense fear of dying.
Symptoms of thanatophobia can develop in both physical and emotional ways.
Thanatophobia can cause the following physical symptoms:
- A racing or palpitating heartbeat
- Headache Associated with Dizziness and Vertigo
- Crying spells
Thanatophobia’s emotional signs and symptoms include:
- Anxiety, rage, and grief
- Depression\s Frustration
- Panic attacks
As a result, someone feeling from thanatophobia may experience feelings of loneliness. Additionally, thanatophobia may manifest with depression or anxiety. As a result, you could develop symptoms similar to those conditions.
How Does Thanatophobia Get Its Name?
Although every case is unique, the development of thanatophobia is often triggered by a near-death experience. It can also emerge after:
- The passing of a loved one
- A sudden or unexpected loss
- As the result of a situation that brings about a loss of control
Anyone can experience thanatophobia, regardless of gender, from young adulthood onwards.
Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings says having a fear of dying and experiencing thanatophobia are actually often two different things. Some people may believe they have thanatophobia, but in reality, they are afraid of the unknown, of being separated from friends and loved ones, of losing control, and of suffering.
How to Cope with Thanatophobia
Learn as much as you can about death and dying, as well as the anxiety that comes with approaching the end of one’s life. You may dread your own impending death or the death of your loved ones. You can often combat either of these by learning about the topic via readings, podcasts, or videos. The more you learn about death, the more comfortable you’ll feel accepting that it’s a process that’s been experienced by every previously living thing in the universe.
In addition to the book The Rising Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Dr. Irvin Yalom, Catchings also recommends it to her clients. Faced with our own morality, the book explores how better communication with our loved ones and a greater appreciation for life’s beauty can result from confronting our own morality.
Catchings also recommends several coping strategies, in particular, living well and focusing on a healthy lifestyle.
Other ways to deal with thanatophobia are as follows:
- Eating well
- Prioritizing your sleep
- Enjoying quality time with those you care about.
- Finding social networks
- Joining support groups
- If you’re religious, relying on your faith or church leaders
- Making room for self-care
- Practicing relaxation techniques, like guided meditation and breathing exercises
- Planning for the end of life
Not all of your fears will be alleviated by these coping techniques; however, many physical symptoms of anxiety that you may experience due to thanatophobia can be lessened with their help. As a result, you’ll have more bandwidth to deal with stressful situations if you’re more relaxed.
Even if you’re making arrangements for someone else, thinking ahead to the end of your life can be helpful. This is yet another method for confronting crippling anxieties, and it can prove to be both empowering and moving.
Searching for resources that address the topic of end-of-life planning for yourself or a loved one is one option. Catchings recommends a book and workbook to help you prepare for the inevitable while still enjoying life to the fullest. It’s called You Only Die Once: Preparing for the End of Life with Grace and Gusto. Her assessment of the content is positive: “It’s informative, educational, and entertaining.” “Being informed and better prepared decreases our anxiety about the unknown and educates us about the dying process. As a result, we fear death less and accept it more.”
Treatment for Thanatophobia
So how do you overcome a debilitating phobia like thanatophobia? There are several ways to deal with phobias like thanatophobia. Treatment by a mental health professional can take many forms.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) has proven effective in treating symptoms of thanatophobia and other phobias.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that focuses on identifying negative thought patterns contributing to your extreme anxiety and phobia. You’ll then learn how to challenge those unhealthy thoughts and create new, more productive ones.
A form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) known as exposure therapy involves gradually exposing a patient to something that causes them extreme fear or discomfort in a safe environment.. Your fear begins to fade as you gain more exposure.
Relaxation techniques can include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, music, and art therapy. You can increase the effectiveness of your relaxation techniques by utilising them on a regular basis.
Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs to treat anxiety or depression in more severe cases. They will typically recommend you also include therapy services while taking medication to ensure the best results.
To be afraid of dying is to be afraid of the unknown. Facing one’s own death can cause fear in anyone. However, when that fear starts to take over your life, it can have a crippling effect not only on you but on your loved ones, too.
A mental health professional can assist you in reducing your symptoms and coming to terms with your mortality if this particular phobia is interfering with your daily life. The next step for people who have phobias like thalassophobia, arachnophobia, or claustrophobia is to consider online therapy as a treatment option for their anxiety problems. With Talkspace, you can speak to a licenced therapist all online within the comfort of your own home.