In today’s blog post, we’re going to dive deep into a topic that’s been bugging me for the past few months and I wanted to share my experience with you hoping it will benefit you in some way.
Before we jump into my 4 tips on how to stop worrying about death, I want to briefly explain where death anxiety comes from and how it has affected me on a personal level.
Here’s the audio version of this blog post:
What Is Thanatophobia?
Death anxiety (also known as thanatophobia) is fear of one’s death, the process of dying or losing a loved one. And it’s way more common than you think!
In fact, I did a bit of digging and found out that every month over 27 thousand people search videos on the topic of thanatophobia on YouTube alone.
So, the good news is you’re not alone in this. The bad news is, this article is going to feel a bit uncomfortable and maybe even unsettling, But I’m happy that you’re here and I want to briefly share my own experience with death.
My Death Anxiety Story
It all began when I turned 18. My boyfriend broke up with me, I had finals coming up, and on top of everything, I wasn’t sleeping well. I was smoking, drinking, and not taking good care of myself. My body was trying to send me a message, but I ignored it over and over again.
One day, I experienced my first panic attack. It felt as if I was dying. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.
Then, I realized I was terrified of death. I became so afraid of it that I almost couldn’t go out and go to school because I feared that I wouldn’t make it back home because something terrible would happen to me.
Fast forward to one year later, my panic attacks stopped, I quit smoking, heavily reduced my drinking, and started taking better care of my health.
Everything was going great until last year.
It’s when I found out that my grandpa had cancer and only a month later, he passed away. I’d never lost anyone close to me before and we had a very beautiful relationship, so it felt as if I had lost my best friend.
The funeral caused me to feel all types of feelings and my death anxiety came back. I didn’t have panic attacks this time. It was more like flashes of general anxiety, mixed with hypochondria. I started to imagine what it felt like to die, to get ill, I had dreams about losing my loved ones, etc.
I became a bit obsessed with death. Fortunately, I was so determined to overcome my death anxiety that I decided to create a healthier relationship with death. And now I want to share all the tools I used to overcome my death anxiety with you.
Here are my 4 tips on how to stop worrying about death and start enjoying life more:
1. Accept That It’s Going to Happen by Meditating on Death
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the first step. You have to begin there and work your way up into the deeper practices.
One way to accept death is to realize that you really can’t do anything about it. We’re all born alone and we will all die alone. One of the reasons you worry about death is because you’re scared of the unknown.
Although many of us believe in spirituality or come from religious backgrounds, we still can’t be 100% sure what happens after we die.
As far as losing your loved ones go, it’s almost the same thing. Whether you worry or not, you’re not going to predict when it happens and you can’t do anything to stop it.
Letting go of resistance and surrendering to the idea that we’re all going to die is the only way to stop worrying about death.
Whether you worry or not doesn’t really matter.
You’re going to die one day anyway. Here’s a practice that can help you develop a healthier relationship with death:
There’s a technique called imaginal flooding. What it essentially does is it helps you get familiar with phobic thoughts such as fear of dying. If you’re scared to do it or you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, please seek professional help before trying this at home.
For this exercise, you’re going to need 5 minutes. Lie down somewhere you know you won’t be disturbed. Take a few deep breaths breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Now, imagine some of your less scary thoughts about death. Keep them as vivid as possible, feel the fear in your body, notice all the unpleasant sensations. Continue taking slow deep breaths throughout the whole exercise.
If you’re finding it hard to stay still with the thoughts, try with less scary thoughts. You can take a break of 5 minutes and do it again for 2-3 times or try again the next day if you feel overwhelmed.
The main point is to become familiar with your intrusive thoughts and accept that at the end of the day, they’re just thoughts, not facts.
Accepting death as the inevitable end of our human experience is the first step to being at peace with it. Instead of focusing on death, we can live more mindfully by letting go of our need to control.
My Top 3 Book Recommendations
The first time I heard about Eckhart Tolle’s teachings was on YouTube. I saw a video of him talking about ‘ego death’ and it got me very intrigued. I wanted to dive deeper into the topic of surrender and understand how I could metaphorically ‘die before I actually die.’ So, I stumbled upon “The Power of Now” and decided to give it a read.
This book changed my life in so many ways! It helped me learn how to detach from my thoughts and feelings, let go of my fear of death, and learn how to live in the present moment. It’s also available on Audible and read by Eckhart Tolle himself (he has a very soothing voice).
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I remember finding this book in a local small bookshop absolutely by accident. My husband and I were browsing without searching for anything in particular and this book caught my eye. I bought it without knowing anything about the author or the content of the book itself, and I’m so happy that I did.
What makes “The Mindfulness Code” different than all the books I’ve read and how it helped me manage my thanatophobia is its simplicity: every chapter gives you an exact step to follow to become more mindful, which in turn becomes a powerful vehicle towards creating a life full of meaning and accepting death as the end of a long, but worthwhile journey. You can check it out here.
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This is the hardest one to read because it’s a bit ancient, but if you’re up for a challenge or you want to ponder on death a little bit more, I think this one could have the biggest impact on your death anxiety. It’s filled with wisdom and mainly based on stoic principles.
The difference between “Meditations” and any other book I’ve read is it doesn’t give you the answers upfront. You simply immerse yourself in it and every page has a deeper meaning. I’ve read some pages more than once simply because I wanted to absorb as much as I could. You can check it out here.
The Only Movie That Helped
My husband introduced me to “The Shift” by Dr.Wayne Dyer a few years ago. If you’re willing to set aside 2 hours and look at life and death from a different perspective, this movie could turn out to be life-changing for you.
“The Shift” will reveal to you how your ego operates, why it’s preventing you from experiencing life to its fullest, and how surrendering is the best way to combat death anxiety. You can watch it on Amazon Prime here for free.
2. Focus on the Things You Can Control
When I became obsessed with my health, I started googling my symptoms around 30-50 times per day (also known as cyberchondria). Can you imagine the amount of anxiety I induced on myself just because I was afraid of dying?
Now, instead of obsessing over things you can’t control such as death, focus on what you can control: your attitude, your outlook on life, your lifestyle choices.
For example, my death anxiety led me to research more about the things that could potentially improve my quality of life in the long run. I started incorporating more healthy food into my diet, started taking daily Vitamin D3, began exercising more and focused on improving my sleep.
If you’re scared of your own death, I recommend you focus on the things you can do to improve your life and potentially live longer. Incorporate new,
There are many small things that you can do to feel more in control of your own life and we all have different preferences, so I’m sure you’ll find something that works for you.
3. Set a Worry Time Period
Okay, let’s say you now meditate on death, live a healthy life, but still find yourself worrying about death. I haven’t talked much about death anxiety caused by fear of losing a loved one, so let’s focus on it now.
But losing someone you love is a whole different story: you’re going to feel a lot of pain, you’ll constantly miss them, and they will probably leave a hole in your heart that nothing and no one will be able to fill.
So a worry time period is something that I highly recommend. I think I heard about this concept first from Dale Carnegie and his book ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’. I highly recommend it:
A worry time period consists of 5 minutes that you dedicate to guilt-free worrying every single day. I recommend you do it approximately at the same time and I also advise you not to do it before bedtime as it can interfere with your sleep.
If you have thoughts about death in any part of your day, try to save them for that worry time and make a promise to yourself that you will dedicate time and space for them later.
4. Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last
One of the best techniques when it comes to overcoming death anxiety is to live every day like it’s your last. I learned about this concept a few years ago from Steve Jobs and I really liked it.
Why is it so helpful when it comes to overcoming your death anxiety and how can you incorporate it into your daily life?
When you live every day like it’s your last, you practice surrendering to life as it is. You let go of your resistance and live with more integrity, make better choices, maybe even care more about your relationships.
By accepting every day as your last day, it’s almost guaranteed that when the time comes, you won’t be as afraid as you are now, because you’ve already surrendered to the possibility to die.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we die. Everything is temporary. All that matters is we make a difference while we are still here and share that beautiful human experience with others.
As for me, I don’t think that death anxiety will ever go away. It will pop up from time to time like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while but avoid grabbing coffee with. But I hope that when my time comes, we will get that coffee and enjoy every last bittersweet drop of it.
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