In this brief guide, we will discuss death anxiety, what it means, some of the symptoms, diagnostic criteria and treatment options.
Death Anxiety: What is it?
Death anxiety is the fear (thoughts) of dying, death or ceasing to exist.
It is not described as a specific disorder but it may be related to other conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders.
The term Death Anxiety is also known as thanatophobia which translated from the greek “thanatos” related to death, and “phobos”, related to fear, we obtain “the fear of death”.
This fear of death or dying is completely normal, it is part of being human.
However, it becomes a problem when fear persists and causes interference in daily life activities.
People with thanatophobia often have thoughts of things that could result in death such as being poisoned or if exposed to something they perceive as potentially harming or contaminated
The issue is being overly aware of the inevitable death, and not being able to make the thoughts stop or go away.
This can make the person feel powerless, alone and meaningless which can eventually change their perspective of what it means to be happy or at peace.
Symptoms of Death Anxiety
Since this is not classified as a condition, people with death anxiety are diagnosed with a specific phobia, which according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) a phobia is an anxiety disorder that is related to a specific object or situation.
To get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the criteria dictates that the fear of death needs to be persistent (for 6 months or more), appears every time the person thinks about dying and interrupts daily life activities.
Some of the key symptoms of a person that has a phobia includes:
- Experiencing fear or anxiety when having thoughts about dying or the process of dying.
- Having panic attacks can cause somatic symptoms such as sweating, hot flushes or irregular heart rate.
- Avoidant behavior of situations that may result in death or dying may be necessary.
- Having physical symptoms such as stomach upset or feeling nauseous when thinking about death or the process of dying.
- Having temperature sensitivity.
- Feeling like they are about to choke.
- Inability to differentiate between reality and fantasy.
- Obsessively imagining ways they could die.
- Severe emotional symptoms such as feeling agitated or angry, sad or even ashamed.
People with phobias may tend to isolate themselves or even avoid contact with family or friends for extended periods of time.
Additionally, the symptoms may come and go over an individual’s life spam, meaning, it can be triggered in certain situations, like for example when having to endure the death of someone they love or if a loved one is really sick.
Thanatophobia vs Necrophobia
While thanatophobia is related to the fear of dying, it is not the case specifically for necrophobia.
This is because people with necrophobia have an intense fear of being close or near something dead, so it could be described as the fear of “dead things”.
While necrophobic can also experience the fear of dying, their anxiety levels are prone to peak when being near or even the thought of something dead, resulting in experiencing a range of physical anxiety-related symptoms.
Symptoms of necrophobia
Some of the specific symptoms related to necrophobia can be:
- The overwhelming or intense fear of dead things.
- Obsession with death or death things.
- Vomiting, nausea or a dry mouth.
- Fainting or hyperventilating.
- Sweating more than usual or trembling. Check the best antiperspirants for anxiety sweat.
- Headaches or migraines.
- Difficulty thinking or speaking.
- Apprehension when leaving the house.
- Seeking medical reassurance too often.
Causes of necrophobia
Even though this condition can develop during adulthood, it is said to start during childhood and if left untreated can affect their personal life tremendously, requiring therapy to overcome their fear.
Usually, a traumatic experience during childhood is related to triggering necrophobia such as being forced to attend a funeral or experiencing the passing of a loved one.
Causes of Death Anxiety
Since this is considered a specific phobia, the cause of the condition might be related to experiencing a traumatic event during childhood as it could be a close to death experience or the passing of someone they were especially attached to.
So it is often related to psychological distress.
Children can become aware of death and its meaning relatively early in life.
For example, if a child experiences a traumatic (death related) experience like the death of a pet or a relative then they can experience terror when extrapolating this situation into their own lives or someone close to them like one of their parents.
One person may think about death in a different way as another person does. So there seems to be individual factors associated, and they are mostly related to age or sex.
Additionally, it is believed that thanatophobia could be linked to specific phobias, panic disorders or other related anxiety disorders.
Treatment for Death Anxiety
Some of the most recommended treatments for Death Anxiety are:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is the most evidence-based type of therapy with a high success rate in treating many mental health conditions.
However, a small number of studies have addressed the effect of treatment for death anxiety.
When used, the main target of CBT is to gradually alter the thoughts related to death and replace them with new, more adaptative thoughts.
This will eventually modify the behavioral pattern and improve the quality of life, of the person suffering from death anxiety.
This type of therapy usually involves talking about your anxiety and fears so they can identify the root cause for your anxiety and provide specific techniques and strategies to cope with your anxiety.
This type of therapy helps the person face their fears. To overcome death anxiety, it is necessary for you to be exposed to your source of fear.
This needs to be done gradually, otherwise, it might worsen the symptoms.
Some antianxiety medications might get prescribed to help you treat your death anxiety.
They are usually beta-blockers or antidepressant medication. Additionally, it is recommended to combine medication with psychotherapy for better results.
Relaxation techniques can be really useful, especially when lowering anxiety levels.
You could benefit from it by learning breathing exercises and training your mind to distract itself from the source, event or situation that may be causing your anxiety levels to go up.
How to overcome Death Anxiety?
- Seeking professional help: find a licensed or qualified professional that can help you overcome your death anxiety.
- Committing to a therapeutic treatment: fully commit to therapy and be as honest as you possibly can.
- Get in touch with your spirituality: it has been proven that people that have religious beliefs have a lower chance of fearing death. So try to get in touch with your spirituality. Since a lot of people turn to spirituality to cope with their struggles, here are the best spiritual books you can try for anxiety.
- Read a book: look for self-help books that can help you understand death so you can change your perspective and focus.
- Make death a part of your life: the idea isn’t to get rid of all the negative thoughts of death, instead, you should be able to incorporate death as part of your life so you can start thinking about death without the negative connotation.
- Prepare for your parting: dying is something you can’t actually control but you can be prepared for when it happens and have the peace of mind of leaving everything under control.
- Focus on your wellbeing and wellness: try exercising, eating properly and taking care of your health (both mentally and physically).
Why is this blog about death anxiety important?
This blog is important because it provides a better understanding of what death anxiety means, how to identify the symptoms (in yourself or someone else) to raise awareness and what the available treatment options are to minimize the effect it can be taking in your life or someone else’s life.
Feel free to comment in the comments section down below!
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) about Death Anxiety
What causes death anxiety?
Death anxiety can be caused by particular early traumatic events that could be related to life-threatening situations or may be experiencing the passing of a loved one.
Is anxiety about death normal?
Anxiety about death is normal, however, it becomes pathological when someone has recurrent thoughts related to death or the fear of dying when they are overly aware of their own existence.
How do you overcome the fear of death?
You can overcome your fear of death by taking control of your life, learning to accept that death is a natural part of life, read available self-help books and guides about how to deal with death, embrace your spirituality or planning your passing with a different focus.
What are the symptoms of Thanatophobia?
The symptoms of thanatophobia are the same as in someone that has an anxiety disorder.
Physical symptoms may include, panic attacks, headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, nausea, sensitivity to changes in temperature, sweating more than usual and irregular heartbeat.
- Death Anxiety and Religious Belief (Scientific Studies of Religion: Inquiry and Explanation)
- Staring At The Sun: Being at peace with your own mortality: Overcoming the Dread of Death
- Overcoming the Fear of Death: Through Each of the 4 Main Belief Systems
- Infinity: Overcoming the Fear of Death
- Beyond Death Anxiety: Achieving Life-affirming Death Awareness
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