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A Real Struggle

Thanatophobia, or death anxiety, is a form of anxiety disorder that involves an intense fear of death. How a person suffers from it can vary, from extremes where it effects their life to such a degree that they are unable to live a normal existence, to having it linger in the back of your head but is controlled.


The fear of death is considered a phobia when it -

  •  It comes every time a person thinks about dying.


  • It gets in the way of everyday life or relationships.


While researching this article, I spoke to people that suffer with Thanatophobia and a common thread was: The fear of nothingness, and how they will no longer exist, how there will be no difference to the world after they are dead. It seems that its this feeling that the hardest to come to terms with being here one minute and gone the next,  which feeds into our natural fear of the unknown. Another common theme while gathering research seemed to be the loss of control for some sufferers as the act of dying is out of their control.


There are many causes of this phobia:

  • the person may have a severe illness and may be anxious about death

  • they may have lost a loved one and it has trigger anxious regarding death.

  • The role of religion where the person may feel they have not been good enough to go to heaven and will be punished eternally damnation.


A very common thread that ran through my discussions with people suffering from Thanatophobia was the death of a loved one, usually a parent. The parent dying made them confront death head on and unlocked a lot of feelings regarding what happens after death. Also, the loss of the parent tended to make the sufferer’s phobia worse. A few of the people I spoke to suffer with a wide range of illness or conditions which made them more concerned about dying early than expected again a common theme here was a fear of not being able to get enough done so the family left behind would be comfortable. It gets to the point where people are convinced, they know the age that they will die and have almost come to terms with it, so plan their life up to and around that date.


Negative aspects of Thanatophobia on your mental health are:

  • Escapism – people with this phobia tend to look for an escape such as drugs, alcohol, or sex with many partners to escape their thoughts of death.

  • Recklessness – people with this phobia tend to recklessly try and cover up how they are feeling when really, they are scared the act is a testimony to the desperateness of the situation, they feel they are facing.

  • Panic attacks – Hyperventilation, Breathlessness, chest pains, headaches, sweating, are symptoms of panic attacks that people can have when they are very anxious.

  • Trouble sleeping – many people with this phobia suffer with difficulty getting to sleep as when the house is quiet at night, they find that’s when they will think and over think about death.


When discussing this while researching having trouble sleeping was very common and many of the people I spoke to had to listen to music or podcasts to drown out any thought in their head. It worked well for some but not for others who were unable to block the thoughts out but instead blocked the pod cast or music out. Many spoke of nightmares regarding death, and which made it difficult to fall back asleep after waking up.

What was interesting about my research was that people who have death anxiety ended up doing jobs where either they worked with death, for example a doctor or a police officer where they see death every day, or studying degrees where they would be faced with death or subject like philosophy where they try to seek out the meaning of existence.
The stress and fear in Thanatophobia are more than real. Human nature has always struggled to come to terms with the fact that we cannot live forever.  If you are living with this phobia, there are ways to cope through counselling.


How would counselling help?

CBT – challenging the client’s inaccurate assumptions regarding death and dying and helping them to see them in a new balanced way.

Exposure – Exercises to help the client see death as a normal part of life. Certain activities would include going to cemeteries and reading gravestones or writing your will and watching movies with death scenes in.

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