by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Is a fear of death stopping you from living your life? Are you thinking about death in a negative way frequently and dictating your life choices?

A counsellor or psychotherapist can help you to discuss and understand your fear of death and dying so that you can live more fully in the present. If your thanatophobia is connected to depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder, they will also work with you on these issues.

What is thanatophobia or 'Death Anxiety?

Thanatophobia is commonly understood as anxiety surrounding the fear of death, or the fear of the dying process.

While it is common for us to worry about our own mortality or the mortality of our family and friends as they age, these worries can develop into more problematic patterns of thinking. If you are struggling to cope with this sense of worry or panic on your own, it is important to seek help.

If your worries stem from a recent diagnosis of ill health or the ill health of a loved one, speaking with a therapist or counsellor could help you to better understand your feelings and help you to overcome them.

It is worth noting that thanatophobia may not be officially recognised under certain psychiatric diagnosis criteria, with symptoms of the condition instead linked to generalised anxiety disorder.

What are the symptoms of thanatophobia?

Individuals who experience thanatophobia may not notice their symptoms until they begin to think about their own death or the death of their loved ones.

Physical symptoms of thanatophobia can include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Frequent panic attacks
  • Irregular heartbeats or heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • Sleep problems

Emotional and behavioural symptoms of thanatophobia can include:

  • Thinking about death in a way that causes distress daily
  • Your fear of death is dictating life choices
  • Not having necessary health procedures because of your fear of dying
  • Persistent worry
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Agitation
  • Avoidance of loved ones or responsibilities for long periods
  • Avoidance of having children you want in case you die during childbirth

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What causes thanatophobia?

A number of factors can lead to the development of a fear of death or the dying process.

Age: Studies have shown that thanatophobia can peak when an individual reaches their 20s but can fade as they grow older.

Ageing Parents: While research suggests that young people more commonly experience thanatophobia than the elderly, some elderly individuals may fear death if their health begins to fail. Children are also more likely to fear death.

Health Issues: Individuals facing problems with their physical health are likely to experience greater anxiety surrounding death.

Gender: Both men and women can experience thanatophobia, particularly in their 20s.

How is thanatophobia treated?

Medication can be used to treat some symptoms. For example, antidepressants can be prescribed for depression and anxiety arising from fear of death and dying. However, medication cannot ‘cure’ thanatophobia.

Talking therapy may help ease symptoms of thanatophobia, and offer you ways to cope with your feelings. By exploring your fear of death, you can identify the triggers for your anxiety, underlying your fear of death. This can help to deal with your phobia. For example, you may explore what part of death is scary for you personally? This could be:

  • Pain and suffering?
  • What lies beyond death?
  • Dying young?
  • Causing people upset and responsibility?
  • Feeling you haven't done enough in life?
  • Being forgotten?
  • Leaving family without you?

Some particular approaches you may consider:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy helps you to understand how our thoughts can affect your feelings and mood, while behavioural therapy is used to identify the links between your behaviours and thoughts.

Existential therapy can help you find meaning and purpose in life, so you can feel that your life is a fulfilling one.

Transpersonal therapy can help you explore spirituality and what the world means to you, so you feel more connected and less afraid of life's ending.

Psychodynamic therapy can help you to get in touch with the unconscious fears related to your anxiety and understand the roots of your fear.

Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing techniques, can also help to relieve the psychical symptoms of thanatophobia.

How is thanatophobia diagnosed?

Thanatophobia is not a clinically recognised condition. While there are no tests that can be performed to determine a thanatophobia diagnosis, a doctor or therapist can gain a greater understanding of your experiences by consulting a list of symptoms. The symptoms and issues related to thanatophobia are common issues that therapists are experienced in working with.

Individuals experiencing thanatophobia may be diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder. However, the fact that your symptoms and feelings of anxiety are in some way related to fears of death and dying will be noted. Some individuals with thanatophobia may also experience anxiety relating to other issues.

A qualified, professional therapist will work with you to examine your thoughts and behaviours and improve how you feel. You will build a relationship based on trust, giving you the confidence to share your feelings and emotions with them. Your counsellor will listen to all that you have to share with empathy and openness.

An experienced therapist or counsellor like those listed on the Harley Therapy platform can help you to manage your symptoms and find your own way forward.

Filter our qualified, professional and vetted therapists by cost, location, availability and approach so you can find and book the best therapist or counsellor for you here. Or find a therapist to help with Thanatophobia below.

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