Death is something that everyone thinks about from time to time, as it is all around us. Between historical events, the media and our own personal lives, it can be close to impossible to go through a day without the notion of death crossing one’s mind. While few people are ever completely comfortable with the idea of death (although there are many exceptions), it is a fact of life and is accepted by most people in the world. However, there are many people who actively fear death on a regular basis and actually allow this fear to infiltrate their lives. Depending on how severe the fear actually is, it can have detrimental effects on the way one lives life. Fortunately, it is possible for just about anyone with the fear of death to eventually overcome it.
WHY DO WE FEAR DEATH?
Historically, death has always been feared throughout the world, and for many reasons. For one, death is one of the few things left in the universe that is still truly unknown to human beings, and will likely always be. Sure, we know what happens to the body once death sets in, but no one truly knows what happens spiritually. For some people, this idea can be exciting, and many people have already made up their minds about what happens after death. Others, however, greet this notion with intense fear. Thanatophobia – the fear of death – is practically as old as the Earth we live on, and is so largely because death signifies the unknown.
DEATH AND RELIGION
Most people would like to live their lives for as long as humanly possible, but everyone knows that they will one day die, as will all of their family members and friends. Thinking about this can be rather morbid and can certainly cause anxiety, but the fact remains that it will happen and it is best to come to grips with this. Depending on one’s religious orientation, death is more easily feared for some than it is for others.
Consider the story of the man who was terrified of flying, and had to fly from California to Japan for business. For the first time in twenty years, he was about to step on an airplane and was terrified that he would die. The man was devoutly Catholic, and decided to go to his priest with his problem. When he explained his story, the priest responded simply with “and why do you think God would wait until you stepped on that plane for it to be your time?” The man left, got on his flight and no longer suffered from any fear.
Religion is many things, but perhaps more than anything it is a way for practitioners to understand the afterlife. Those who are highly religious rarely have a fear of death. Monks, for instance, embrace death as an ascension to a new and better life. For those who are not religious or who question their religion, this security and comfort may not exist. Suddenly there is no explanation for what happens after we die, which can cause an extreme amount of anxiety.
Step back for just a second and ask yourself what your fear of death is doing for you. Is it making your life easier? Chances are the answer is no. In fact, people who spend their entire lives worrying about dying often look back and realize that they weren’t living at all, but rather dying very slowly. Sometimes acceptance is necessary in life, and this cannot ring anymore true than when it comes to death. Accepting death as a natural part of life will help you to enjoy the life you’re currently living.
THERAPY FOR PHOBIAS
Some people have a very hard time beating fears and phobias on their own, and this is fine. In fact, it is very common for people with strong fears to need a bit of assistance in learning how to cope and eventually overcome. In this case, it can be very advantageous to seek therapy. Seeing a therapist can be extremely helpful to anyone who suffers from fears of any kind, as it can help one to step back and really analyze their thought processes. This is often the first step to changing thought patterns and eliminating the fear of death.
Many people don’t realize that our fears are often deeply routed in an event or happening that we experienced at one time or another. These events often occurred far back in childhood and may even be completely repressed by the individual. Analytical therapy can be helpful in tracing back and figuring out exactly what caused the fear of death that you are currently experiencing. For instance, perhaps you had a grandparent who died when you were a very young age, and you were in the room when it happened. You may not remember this happening, but it did. There is a distinct possibility that subconsciously you have not yet worked through this loss, and it has translated as an intense fear of death. Analytical therapy can help you to identify such situations and grieve.
For many people who fear death, however, this is not the case. Sometimes fears can arise from out of nowhere, with no rational explanation as to why they exist. In these cases, the person often experiences heightened anxiety and may even suffer from panic attacks at any given moment, which can make living a normal life very difficult. This is often the case for those who obsess over certain fears, and can be dealt with head-on through the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. Therapists who practice CBT believe that our thoughts and emotions are directly linked to how we feel and behave. By changing the way we think of and perceive death, we can learn to eventually accept it and decrease any anxiety that comes along with it.
Another form of therapy that is often used for people who suffer from phobias is known as exposure therapy. As with the man from the story above, many people are extremely terrified of flying. The thought of stepping onto an airplane for people like this can be enough to make them feel like fainting. Exposure therapy entails helping the patient to tackle their fear head-on in order to help them overcome it. For instance, someone who is afraid of flying may take a very short, fifteen minute flight as the first step in their exposure therapy. Next, they may take a flight that lasts an hour, and again another flight that lasts for two hours. Eventually, the patient begins to see the irrationality of his or her fears and no longer has trouble flying.
When it comes to the fear of death, exposure therapy can be somewhat tricky, but it is not at all impossible. For instance, a therapist may bring in someone who has just lost a loved one but it comfortable with it to speak to the patient directly. The patient can ask any questions that he or she would like, with the therapist’s end goal of helping to patient to even approach the subject at all. Next, the therapist might bring in someone who has no fear of death for the patient to interact with. Overtime, the patient’s interaction with these people should eventually help to quell any fear that still exists.
FORCED POSITIVE THINKING & MEDITATION
Perhaps the best way to tackle the fear of death is to do so through forced positive thinking. Many people use the term “fake it til you make it,” and that principal has never been more true than in a situation such as dealing with the fear of death. The basic tenant of forced positive thinking is to be mindful of when you are actually fearing death, and actively turn the thinking on it’s head. For instance, let’s say someone cannot stop thinking about how they could die, even as they’re taking a walk outside on a sunny day. By switching around this thinking and forcing yourself to think “it’s a beautiful day outside, and I am so lucky to be alive right now,” the negative thinking becomes positive and grateful. Although this is a tough practice to maintain, it will truly change the way you think and approach your life if you can keep it up over time.
Meditation can be another wonderful way to help you overcome the fear of death. Through meditation, many people find that they learn to accept life for what it is, which includes both the negative and positive aspects. Practicing meditation is all about discipline, and can help you to grow as a human being. Breathing or sound meditation are excellent ways to start, or if you like working in groups, you could always attend a group meditation session, which are often very inexpensive and are available in most major cities and even some small towns.
The fear of death is something that everyone grapples with at one point or another, but it can truly inhibit you from living a positive, happy and enjoyable life. Taking steps to conquer your fear will lead to an overall enhanced quality of life, as well as a more relaxed and spiritual you.