Are you afraid of death?

Death. The very term can be a source of anxiety. Fear of death, in itself, can be a protective factor that keeps us alive. For most people, thinking about death is not pleasant and can even cause a little anxiety. But for you, this anxiety that you feel about “death” is so important that it impacts your daily life.

hourglass - fear of death

1. What is thanatophobia?

Thanatophobia or death anxiety is a panic fear of the possibility of dying. A person is thanatophobic when the anxiety of death is so great that you can no longer live a life properly.

This phobia of death may cause you to avoid certain activities that you consider risky. The difficulty is that your brain can bring you sensations of danger in almost any situation. The car or any type of transportation? Too dangerous. Going on a trip? Unthinkable. Leave your home? Only if you have to. You will have understood, the consequences of this phobia will touch different spheres of life: social life (isolation, avoidance of outings…), professional life (any job or transport can be a risk…) and family life (permanent anxiety of the death of one’s relatives…). The majority of the people who suffer from this phobia are aware of it and suffer from it.

2. What causes thanatophobia?

It is mainly a traumatic origin:

Like most phobias, thanatophobia can have a traumatic origin. Indeed, if you have a loved one who has died or if you have seen a corpse, this may have created a trauma that has repercussions for your thanatophobia.

Violence is another type of trauma. Indeed, a person who has been subjected to violence, such as children, will become aware of the existence of death and thus create an anxiety related to it.

3. The different symptoms of thanatophobia

There are a number of symptoms that may lead you to believe that you have death anxiety.

  • Tend to avoid all places or situations that may be related to death: For example, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, for you to go to a hospital or a cemetery. Just thinking about these places will cause you to have different negative emotions such as anxiety.
  • Insomnia. Indeed, people will be anxious about dying in their sleep.
  • Development of depressive symptoms and withdrawal (with social isolation).
  • Like many phobias, just the image on a photo or screen of death can create significant anxiety.
  • Development of hypochondria: The impression that one will develop a serious illness that will lead to death.
  • As with many phobias, addictions can occur. These substances are often present in order to calm the various anxieties related to the phobia.

In these symptoms we find symptoms common to other phobias such as feelings of oppression, suffocation, dizziness, panic attacks

4. Can anyone suffer from thanatophobia? 

Some people are more likely than others to develop a phobia of death. One can suffer from thanatophobia at any age from the age of 7-8 years old, that is to say from the moment when one becomes aware of death and its meaning.

Fear of death is often found in people suffering from agoraphobia, claustrophobia (with the fear of suffocating to death for example) or hypochondria. People who are anxious will tend to develop death anxiety more easily, as will hypersensitive people.

5. Management of thanatophobia

There are different therapies that can help you deal with thanatophobia.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most effective therapies. This type of therapy will help you better manage your emotions related to death anxiety. To do this, you will be gradually exposed to different environments that can be distressing.  This type of therapy can be done by starting with virtual reality. Thus, you will be taken in virtual reality to environments such as the hospital, public transport… depending on what is causing you anxiety. Once you have a better management of your emotions, you will be able to start exposing yourself in reality to get to the extinction of your anxiety.

If you feel strong moments of anxiety related to this phobia, you can use different types of relaxation/breathing exercises. Indeed, take the time to breathe in for 4 seconds and then breathe out for 4 seconds. Do this exercise for 3-4 minutes, in order to calm your heart rate and thus decrease your anxiety.

In addition to CBT, you can use different types of relaxation-meditation-hypnosis to help you control your emotions.

There are ways to prevent the development of thanatophobia.