Have you heard of thanatophobia? It’s a term used to describe the fear of death. We’ve spoken about necrophobia, the fear of funerals, in a previous blog, which you can read HERE. Necrophobia can be put down to a range of causes, including social anxiety around groups of people, regrets one might have, or simply having to say goodbye to a loved one all over again. Death anxiety – or thanatophobia – on the other hand, can hit us at any stage in our lives and stay with us for a long time too. Those suffering from the anxiety might know where it comes from, or they may have no idea.
Who can ‘death anxiety’ affect?
While some anxiety about death is a normal experience for most people, especially if you or someone you love is ill, extreme anxiety can have a huge disturbance on daily life. It could stop us going on holiday or taking long haul flights, avoiding watching the news or constantly researching health issues. Sadly, worrying about losing life stops sufferers from actually living their life.
The condition was first described by Sigmund Freud in 1915, characterised by extreme and excessive fear of your own death or the process of dying. The word thanatophobia derives from two Greek words, ‘thanatos’ meaning ‘death’ in ancient Greek and from a much older Proto-Indo-European term meaning ‘to disappear or die’.
There hasn’t been too much research into thanatophobia, but what has been found is largely as we would expect; those with existing physical health problems are more likely to fear their own death. Age has also been found to play a part and those more commonly suffering are young people in their 20s. Whilst younger people have been found to be more likely to fear death itself, older people have been found to be more afraid of the dying process.
While both men and women have been found to experience thanatophobia equally, more women have been found to suffer from it than men in their 50s. One study found that people who are more humble have been found to be at lower risk of developing thanatophobia, as they have a lower sense of self-importance and are therefore more willing to accept their passing.
What can we do to overcome it?
As with any anxiety, there are ways to help manage the condition.
- Do what works for you – There’s no ‘one size fits all’ here. Do what you need to do to understand and accept your feelings and find coping strategies that work for you.
- Self-help techniques – These include activities that help you feel calmer and more relaxed, such as breathing exercises and guided meditations. You can find plenty of resources online to help with this.
- Healthy living – Anything that will help you improve your overall mental health, such as eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep and regular exercise. These things are not necessarily a long term solution for overcoming your anxieties but they will help to reduce the physical symptoms. If you feel better in yourself then you will feel more in control and able to cope.
- Keep talking – We all hear it a lot, but talking to someone about how you feel can make a huge difference and help you realise you are not alone.
- Professional help – Therapy can help you to make the changes you need to overcome your anxiety and get back to living the life you want to lead. With a professional to guide you, you can explore where your fear came from, what it is you are actually worried about and how life might be if you can overcome your fear. You might do exercises to help you accept or at least tolerate the uncertainty of life, or to help your mind to see that a lot of the things you fear in daily life are not as threatening or harmful to you as they once seemed.
Where can more help be found?
If you or someone you love is suffering from thanatophobia, or any other type of anxiety, you can get professional help through the NHS or via The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, which has a directory of therapists across the country. There are also many mental health apps that can help you manage your fear on a day to day basis – you can find these on the NHS website.
Extreme death anxiety might seem unusual, but many people are affected by it, so don’t feel ashamed of being open about your feelings and getting the help you need.