When the Fear of Death Doesn’t Let You Live

· September 14, 2016

We’re all clear on one unavoidable fact: we’re all going to die some day. Nevertheless, sometimes thinking about the end of our lives translates into a feeling of true terror for many. Oftentimes, people who find themselves around someone who is going to die start to feel very anxious. They can feel a deep sadness and pain. At the same time, our fear of death is on of the main reasons why religions have survived throughout the centuries.

Sometimes, death is such a harsh reality that many prefer to avoid talking about it or seeing any of the rituals that surround it. But, does this have something to do with the feeling that our own end is drawing near? That is to say, is it associated with the fear we feel when we think that the end of our days will also arrive? Do we see a mirror of our own death in every dying person? Death reminds us that were vulnerable and finite. It tells our inner self that regardless of what it may become, it too will disappear one day.

Nevertheless, some people magnify this feeling so much that they can go as far as to create an authentic phobia towards death. Turning their fear into an irrational panic. They can even become completely intolerant of anything that has to do with the world of death.

One of the sources of confusion that exist around the fear towards death is that it’s adaptive, because it makes us more alert and keeps us from exposing ourselves to dangerous situations. However, when this is taken to an extreme and it transforms into a phobia, it can be truly disabling. Thus, the paradox may arise that the fear of death can actually become the thing that keeps us from living.

In addition, the fear of death can bring about many other fears, such as: the fear of pain, darkness, the unknown, suffering, nothing…Feelings that imagination, traditions, and stories have transmitted from parents to their children, and which torment us and keep us from enjoying life.

On the other hand, the death of a loved one, besides reminding us of our own vulnerability, is accompanied by feelings of loss that undermine our cognitive defenses and make us more vulnerable to negative obsessive thoughts.

Regarding the origin of this fear, many specialists think that it exists because we have been taught to have it. How? One of the ways we learn to fear is through the behaviors of others. Thus, for example, if we see someone quickly draw their hand back from a certain place, we assume there is some kind of danger there and keep this in mind in order to not place our own hand in the same place. Generalizing, if we see that someone fears something and we have no other information to go on, we assume that we too should fear that thing. 

When fear hasn’t yet turned into a phobia and is simply a reactive, not disabling or limiting thought, some of the strategies we can use to control it are as follows: 

  • Accept the idea. Death exists and that is not something you can change. But you can change what you do up until that moment.
  • Strongly believe in something. Regardless of whether it is true or not, faith can many times have a great power of transformation.
  • Place your attention elsewhere. Don’t focus on this fear or this thought. You can do it mentally (i.e.: planning what you’re going to do the next day) or behaviorally (i.e.: calling your spouse to ask them how their day is going).

If this thought starts to generate a great discomfort for you, the thoughts become recurrent or this fear starts to condition your life, you should see a specialist.