The fear of dying is a complex and debilitating phobia. It’s also practically universal since, at some point, everyone thinks about the fact that you’re going to die someday. When people hear the word thanatophobia, they picture someone terrified of death and wants nothing more than to escape it.
What Is Thanatophobia?
The fear of death is known as thanatophobia. It is the extreme and irrational fear of death and corpses. While you may try to convince yourself that it’s normal to be afraid of death, the truth is everyone will experience a sense of dread when thinking about their death or that of someone else.
Thanatophobia is the fear of dying or cemeteries. This condition is demonstrated through mental and physical stress upon exposure to reminders. A person with thanatophobia may feel fearful, anxious, nervous, and panicky when exposed to or confronted with death or near-death experiences. The word ” thanatophobia ” is derived from ” thanatos which means ” death,” and ” phobos, ” meaning “fear.”
Thanatophobia is a fear of dying or, more specifically, death. For those with this kind of phobia, the mere idea of encountering someone who has passed away or even the thought of it can be frightening. Such people believe they would experience a similar fate if they ever die. Many thanatophobic people associate the dead with spirits and ghosts, increasing their anxiety. Many people have this type of phophobia because death is something that we try to avoid thinking about.
Symptoms of Thanatophobia
There are many different symptoms of thanatophobia, and the severity can vary from person to person. A few of the common symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heartbeat
- Panic attacks
- Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
- Intrusive thoughts about mortality and death
- Inability to focus on anything else besides death
More specifically, thanatophobia symptoms include:
- Scary dreams or nightmares about dying
- Unwillingness to talk about death and dying
- Avoiding thinking about their death or watching movies that have something to do with dying or talking about it
- The fear can also cause individuals to avoid hospitals, doctors, and the elderly.
What Are the Causes of Thanatophobia?
There are no known causes of thanatophobia. However, some theories about specific experiences might make someone more likely to experience this fear.
Some people develop thanatophobia after experiencing the death of a loved one. The grief process is often harrowing and can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
People who experience other phobias may be more prone to developing thanatophobia. This may be because they already have a heightened sense of anxiety or panic that increases their chances of developing a fear of death or dying. Some people experience this condition because of a traumatic life event, such as losing someone close to them. Others may have experienced it their entire lives because of genetic predisposition.
How Is Thanatophobia Diagnosed?
Thanatophobia is not currently a diagnosable condition. However, a mental health professional — such as a psychologist or psychiatrist — can help you identify the cause of your fear and determine whether it’s thanatophobia. These professionals are trained to recognize the symptoms and underlying causes of phobias.
To diagnose thanatophobia, your doctor will likely:
Perform a physical exam. This may include checking your pulse and blood pressure, listening to your heart and lungs, and examining your abdomen.
Order diagnostic tests. You may have blood tests or an electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that measures electrical activity in your heart. These tests can help rule out physical conditions that may be causing symptoms similar to those of thanatophobia.
Give you a psychological evaluation. Your doctor will ask questions about your feelings, thoughts, and behavior patterns. Suppose they suspect that you have anxiety related to death. In that case, he or they may refer you for additional evaluation by a psychiatrist or psychologist — doctors who specialize in mental health disorders.
Feeling anxiety or worry about death is normal as you get older. It’s also normal to think about death when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. When these feelings become extreme and affect your quality of life, it may signify that it’s time to seek help.
How Is Thanatophobia Treated?
Treating thanatophobia is a two-step process that begins with identifying the root cause. In other words, if you’re experiencing a great deal of death anxiety, treatment will likely start with understanding why this is such a prominent issue.
The doctor/therapist will then help you manage your symptoms most helpfully. Approaches include:
Medications. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications can help relieve some symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, you’ll work with a mental health counselor to change negative thinking patterns contributing to your anxiety. You’ll also learn relaxation techniques to help you calm yourself during periods of distress.
Exposure therapy. This type of therapy exposes you to the source of your fear in a safe way and helps you cope with the anxiety it creates. For example, if you’re afraid of flying, your therapist might have you watch videos about airplane flights or take visits to the airport.
Joining a support group for people with the same phobia may also be helpful. Talking with others who share similar experiences can help you feel less alone coping with your condition.
For severe cases of thanatophobia, inpatient treatment programs may be recommended to provide intensive care for these fears and phobias.
How to Cope With Thanatophobia?
Although thanatophobia may have substantial adverse effects on your life, there are several strategies you can use to cope. Managing your fear might include:
- Learning more about the causes and treatment of thanatophobia
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms of thanatophobia
- Trying relaxation techniques for fear
- Talking to a therapist about your emotions
It is essential to know that thanatophobia is a severe phobia, and if it interferes with your daily living, you should take steps to reduce its severity. If you suffer from other anxiety disorders, the symptoms of mild thanatophobia will probably not be the only thing you have to deal with.
Many people experience the fear of dying, but those grieving the loss of a loved one often experience the anxiety more strongly. Since it is caused by emotional distress, thanatophobia can vary in intensity and frequency depending on life circumstances. Just like any other phobia, thanatophobia can be reduced through practice and education on the topic.
- Sinoff G. (2017). Thanatophobia (Death Anxiety) in the Elderly: The Problem of the Child’s Inability to Assess Their Own Parent’s Death Anxiety State. Frontiers in medicine, 4, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2017.00011
- Falkenhain, M., & Handal, P. J. (2003). Journal of Religion and Health, 42(1), 67–76. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1022216828508
- V. Fortner, Robert A. Neimeyer, B. (1999). Death anxiety in older adults: A quantitative review. Death Studies, 23(5), 387–411. https://doi.org/10.1080/074811899200920