What is Thantophobia? (A Comprehensive Guide)
In this blog we will deliberate the causes, symptoms and treatment for Thantophobia.
Thantophobia is an irrational fear of death and dying.
It is an intense fear where the person experiences a full-blown panic attack even at the thought of dying.
‘Life is so unpredictable and death is so inevitable’.
Everyone has to die one day or the other and it is one thing whose time is unknown to anyone.
No one has lived to narrate the experience of death, but still the idea of dying and life after death is so intense that it engulfs the entirety of the person.
Thantophobia is one of the most intense of phobias and the sufferer might be scared of either being buried alive or claustrophobic and has a fear of closed spaces.
Symptoms of Thantophobia
- Dry mouth
- Loss of interest
- Anxiety at the thought of dying or falling ill
- Anxiety at funerals
Causes of Thantophobia
As with most phobias and anxieties, there is no clear consensus about what causes Thantophobia..
The most common explanation is a childhood traumatic episode where a child may have been exposed to death of aloved one in the family or even a beloved pet.
He must have seen how burial is done and thus, the fear of being alone can also play a role in the development of Thantophobia; upon dying a person will be alone.
Religion also plays a vital role in the development of fears that can go irrational if not explained properly.
In most religions of the world death is seen as a transitory period or phase between the two worlds.
Therefore, the fear of losing one world that is tangible and the transfer into another world that is not yet seen or known by anyone, this can surely leave the person experiencing Thantophobia.
People may also be afraid of losing control because this is something that is not in their hands and not controlled by them, no matter how powerful a person is.
Thus, the death of someone close can leave the person not in control of the situation.
This inability to manipulate the situation according to one’s own whims might also push them to Thantophobia.
There are plenty of people with Thantoophobia who cannot even recall the traumatic incident that would have developed this fear.
Many times, Thantophobia can suddenly arise out of the blue.
Scientists believe that a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemistry, and other biological and environmental factors could cause such fears to develop.
As is common in specific phobias, the cause Thantophobia may lie deep in the person’s childhood or its onset may be due to an environmental factor.
Genetics also plays a pivotal role in the cause of developing Thantophobia.
Other causes can be as follow:
• Learned behavior
• Traumatic experiences
Etiological Models of Omphalophobia
1. Biological (Genetic) Model
Genetics also determines how a person reacts and feels.
Therefore, people inherit fears and phobias as well from their families.
The brain cells (neurons) release certain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that in depleted states can cause anxiety like symptoms.
2. Psychodiagnostics Model
If a person has suffered from a traumatic experience in early childhood it can have a severe dire impact on his later life.
A childhood traumatic experience could be where children often see a movie where people die in accidents or suffer before they die.
This may leave a long lasting impression. Reading books that have a detailed account of deaths and dying, can add to the fears.
Death is a finality and nothing exists after that.
A person ceases to exist and leaving loved ones behind and even personal belongingness poses a threat to him.
Therefore to avoid this anxiety they start fearing and evading what they fear.
The intensity is more because they know that death cannot be avoided, only the thought of it can be.
3. Behavioral Model
According to this model, irrational fears may be caused through behaviors that are learned by replication.
Children often replicate unique behaviors of their adults, parents or a favorite aunt or uncle.
If a family member is already suffering from anxiety or is scared of one or another thing, then chances are higher that only by observing this, the child may develop fears
Treatments of Thantophobia
Thantophobia can be treated through different treatments.
These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.
1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
In CBT the therapist helps the client to amend his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.
This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.
The therapist helps the client to discover the reason for this thought, his behavior in regards to death and dying.
This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Therefore, the results are seen soon.
It changes the way a person thinks and feels. CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrates on the present situation.
Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.
Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior.
Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.
For the treatment of Omphalophobia, the therapist separates the problem into parts.
These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions.
- What thought is invoked at the thought of death?
- How do you feel when you see funerals?
- What do you do when you go to funerals?
- Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT and designed by Albert Ellis. According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is what subjective perspective is.
In Thantophobia, the person thinks of dying and gets anxious because there is a fear of leaving loved ones behind and experiencing the unknown.
2) Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP)
In this therapy the client is asked to
- Access the phobia in a safe environment.
- Help them to replay the phobia along with happy emotions.
- Disassociate from the phobia.
3) Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.
We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.
We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions.
In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!
In Thantophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is thinking of what he is afraid of.
Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms.
For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.
The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.
The client will meditate during the thoughts of death and concentrate on his breathing patterns in the presence of the feared stimulus.
5) Self-Help Groups
Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.
These groups are individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias.
They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.
This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.
6) Changing Lifestyle
Breaking down the dullness of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well.
• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:
Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.
• Indulging in an exercise regime:
Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better.
This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.
• Altering eating and drinking habits:
Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.
This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum.
With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.
• Improving the sleep cycle:
When we get proper rest, our concentration improves.
When the mind is properly rested then only can it view the beauty of the open space like fields and prairies.
7. Psychiatric Medication
There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Thantophobia are severe.
- Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.
These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Omphalophobia as well as other phobias.
Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better.
7) Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions.
A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.
Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.
Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.
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What we recommend for Phobias
- If you are suffering from Phobias then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you address the fears you are facing.
Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if your phobias are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes Thanatophobia?
Causes for Thanatophobia may include an early traumatic event related to almost dying or the death of a loved one.
Also someone suffering from a severe illness may experience Thanatophobia because they are anxious about dying.
Do I have Thantophobia?
8f you are mostly thinking of your own death or the death of a loved one and undergo panic like symptoms, then you might be suffering from it.
Does dying hurt?
No one knows if dying hurts, because no one lives to tell it.
Is Thantophobia curable?
Yes. Thantophobia is curable with the help of regular psychotherapy and lifestyle changes.
If required the client might also be prescribed a medicine.
Examples of other interesting phobias
Titles to Read
- The Denial of Death. by Ernest Becker.
- Escape From Evil. by Ernest Becker.
- My thantophobia girl Puteri Aqish
- The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 minutes a day to less stress, more peace