Being afraid to die might not have been something you were thinking about until recently, thanks to the health crisis affecting us. If you’ve found yourself feeling scared of death in the past few months, you’re not alone. The phobia regarding death, known as thanatophobia, can be an irrational fear of death or dying.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is It Normal to Be Scared of Death?
- Why You May Be Scared of Death Lately and What You Can Do About It
The fear of dying has gripped many people recently as they struggle with not knowing how to accept death after it hits close to home. There are many reasons why humans die, ranging from illness and disease to accidents and natural causes.
Is It Normal to Be Scared of Death?
Being afraid of death is normal and sometimes stems from not knowing what happens to you after you die. It’s common to fear the unknown, especially when your spiritual or religious beliefs aren’t meshing with the reality of your experiences as they relate to death and dying.
The following are some of the most common reasons why you might find yourself suddenly afraid of death.
Why You May Be Scared of Death Lately and What You Can Do About It
There has been an increased number of deaths reported in the U.S. and worldwide due to the novel coronavirus that has affected millions of people. You may already know someone who’s fallen ill or has died from this disease. Sudden and unexpected losses can add to your fear of death and may be the reason why you’re feeling anxious.
Every year, both the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a list of the top causes of death in the United States. These statistics are grouped in a National Vital Statistics Report that shows trends in what people are dying from.
The top five leading causes of death in Males in 2017 (the latest completed report) were listed as follows:
- Heart Disease - 24.2%
- Cancer - 21.9%
- Unintentional Injuries - 7.6%
- CLRD (Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease) - 5.2%
- Stroke - 4.3%
In women, the top five leading causes of death in 2017 were:
- Heart Disease - 21.8%
- Cancer - 20.7%
- CLRD - 6.2%
- Stroke - 6.2%
- Alzheimer’s Disease - 6.1%
It helps to understand these trends and mortality rates as they affect you based on your age, race, and biological sex. By learning the causes of death in certain people, you can alter your lifestyle to lead a healthier and longer life.
Other less scientific reasons you may be afraid of death are as follows:
1. Someone close to you has died recently
Whenever you suffer the loss of someone you love, it’s normal to start thinking about your mortality. The overall experience may leave you wondering if you’re going to die next. These thoughts often occur in adult children who have experienced the death of their last parent. Young children also often have this irrational fear of death when one or both of their parents die.
What you can do about it: When you start feeling anxious about death, it helps to take a step back to gain a different perspective. Look at the age, circumstances, and cause of death affecting the person who died. Look for ways that set you apart from the person who died.
2. You’re afraid of funerals
Funerals seem to make many people uncomfortable. Some people are superstitious and think that death is contagious. Know that you are not likely to die by having attended a funeral or seeing a dead body. These fears are irrational and are often fueled by cultural beliefs surrounding death and dying.
What you can do about it: Alleviate this fear by talking to people you know who have gone to funerals and asking them about their experiences.
The fear of funerals lessens the more you talk to others who’ve been to them and can tell you what to expect. You can also ask a trusted friend to accompany you to your loved one’s funeral so that you can have added support.
3. You’ve been dreaming about death
Dreaming about death is a common reason why people fear death. Some people believe that dreaming about death is an omen that signifies that death is coming to either the person who dreamt about death or a closely related loved one.
What you can do about it: Consider reading books on dream interpretation or other books on religion and spirituality to help you make sense of your dreams. Sometimes your dreams of death are precipitated by a loved one’s death. Ask yourself if you’ve recently dealt with the death of someone you know. This may be triggering these death dreams.
4. You suffer from past trauma
Unresolved traumas in your life can sometimes lead to death anxiety. Things like witnessing the death of your parents or siblings can lead you to become fearful of death.
What you can do about it: Consider seeking therapy to resolve any untreated past traumas. Whenever you suppress trauma, it can manifest later in life in the form of fears and phobias. A grief therapist or counselor can help you discover the source of your worries.
5. You have unresolved personal relationships
Dying without making amends with someone you love can leave you feeling anxious and worried about dying without first fixing your relationship with them. This often occurs in families who’ve become estranged or whenever friendships sour.
What you can do about it: Make it a priority to mend your broken relationships whenever possible. Ask for forgiveness if needed, and be prepared to forgive others who’ve hurt you in the past. It may seem uncomfortable reaching out to them at first, but slowly you can start to open communication lines with them.
6. You haven’t fulfilled your life’s purpose
The thought of dying without having fulfilled your life’s purpose may cause you to develop a fear of death. Some people have a clear vision of what they deem to be their life’s mission, and they work toward reaching their goals or living the life they’ve always wanted. When you haven’t yet fulfilled your purpose, it may seem that time is running out as you get older.
What you can do about it: Start by writing out a mission statement and defining your life’s purpose. Draw out a plan of how you want to achieve your desires and start acting upon it. Every day work toward getting closer to your goals, dreams, and desires.
7. You don’t want to leave your family alone
Parents often have this fear of dying and leaving their families behind to fend for themselves. They see themselves as the head of their household and believe that their family cannot survive without their physical, emotional, and financial support.
This fear of not wanting to leave your family alone if you die an untimely death is enough to keep you up at night.
What you can do about it: Settle some of these insecurities by setting in place the proper estate planning tools to include life insurance policies in case you die suddenly and unexpectedly. Nothing can give you more peace of mind than knowing your family will be financially taken care of when you die.
8. You haven’t done any death planning
Death planning goes beyond ensuring your family’s financial well-being in the event of your untimely death. Fear of the dying process can sometimes give you nightmares, especially when you’re afraid of losing autonomy over your healthcare decisions.
What you can do about it: There are necessary yet straightforward end-of-life planning documents you should consider having in place in the event of serious illness or incapacity.
With the proper planning tools, you’ll be able to make individual health care decisions ahead of time should the need ever arise. You can determine your healthcare wants and needs, who will take care of you, and where.
9. You’re afraid of dying alone
Dying alone is one of the top fears for people who don’t have any extended family or partner. Loneliness is only a small part of the contributing factor to this fear of dying alone. Other fears that may surface are dying at home alone and no one noticing or suffering from illness without needed support.
What you can do about it: Have a plan in place in the event of an emergency. Get to know your neighbors and people in your community. Consider re-establishing old friendships so that you have someone to check up on you now and then.
10. You don’t have a legacy
Dying without anyone remembering you is a part of being afraid of death. You may have started thinking about how your family and the community will remember you once you’re dead. Maybe nothing extraordinary comes to mind, or you can only think of negative things.
What you can do about it: Make a list of all the good things you’ve done in your life, how you’ve helped others, and any accomplishments or successes you’ve had. You can also start now to help others in need. It’s never too late to start doing good in your life to reshape your legacy.
Controlling Your Fear of Death
With proper planning and consideration for why you’re afraid of death, you can begin to control your fears. It’s always good to start with a list and work your way through it. Pinpoint areas where you can make positive changes to help you plan for a better death. Having a plan will help you get over specific fears of death you may have.