Thursday, April 11, 2024

How To Deal With Death Anxiety

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Scenario : Worrying When A Loved One Is At A Higher

How to cope with anxiety | Olivia Remes | TEDxUHasselt

This is a common experience for anyone, but its been tragically even more prevalent in a time when nearly 3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, and many millions are at high risk for serious outcomes if they contract the virus. Millions of people also have illnesses like cancer or heart disease that could become fatal. If you have a loved one whos at high risk, facing a serious illness, or near the natural end of their life, you may be worried about the day when they will die.

Dont expect yourself to be perfectly rational and poised if youre facing the impending loss of someone you love. Allow yourself to feel anxiety and grief.

Its one thing to rationally understand that death is inevitable and that things may be out of your control, but its quite another to feel at peace with that knowledge. Dont expect yourself to be perfectly rational and poised. After all, you may be facing the impending loss of someone you love. Allow yourself to feel anxiety and grief.

At the same time, for both your sake and the sake of your loved one, be wary of natural anxiety and grief turning into an unhelpful state of paralysis or preoccupation. It may be time to take some steps if you find yourself:

  • Unable to manage the basics in life
  • Unable to engage in proper self-care, or
  • So preoccupied with thoughts about your loved ones death that you cant enjoy your time with them now.

Lets look at three things you can do to help yourself.

Find Things That Bring You Joy

When we’re feeling anxious or stressed, it can be difficult to find enjoyment in the things we used to love.

However, it’s important to make an effort to do the things that make us happy.

Identify the activities that bring you joy and make a point to do them regularly.

Whether it’s reading, spending time in nature, or listening to music, taking the time to do things you enjoy can help you to feel more balanced and at ease.

Can The Thought Of Death Cause Anxiety

Death itself presents the human mind with several unknown elements that are extremely difficult to fathom. After all, death is different for everyone, its shrouded in mystery, and nobody knows exactly what happens during the experience of death.

Is death painful? Is there another experience after the physical body dies? Is there a heaven? What will happen to those I leave behind? It doesnt matter if youre a person of faith, or if you believe that everything simply ends upon death, these questions are natural for all human beings to ask.

Believe it or not, just hearing the word death can cause heightened anxiety in human beings in general. According to Gabrielle Ferrara, Just from an evolutionary standpoint, we dont like to be confronted with the possibility of death. Its something that were biologically conditioned to fear or to be anxious about, she states.

As human beings, we naturally dont like talking about death or loss, but this can also be counterproductive. By shying away from those conversations, were indirectly creating anxiety or fear around death because were training our minds to affirm that this is not a topic we want to discuss, Ferrara says.

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Think Or Talk About Death More

One way to get comfortable with any fear is to put yourself in situations where youre reminded of it. And that goes for a fear of death too! You can pass by cemeteries on purpose, read about death, or watch movies where deaths a main theme. Heads up: If you have a severe fear of death and/or feel majorly panicked by it, you may not be ready to do this on your own and you could benefit from working through exposures with an actual licensed mental health pro via exposure therapy.

In exposure therapy, youll pinpoint what causes you the least and most anxiety, and then gradually move from one anxiety-provoking scenario to another thats a little bit more anxiety-provoking until each of them, and your discomfort with death, feels less overwhelming, says Dr. Chesworth. Aside from confronting death-related things in real life, you can work on imaginal exposures, where youre imagining scenarios you fear.

Talking about death with people besides a therapist can also help. If you have a religious practice, you might speak with spiritual leaders at your local synagogue, church, mosque, or other place of worship. Or you can try going to a Death Cafe , where people, typically strangers, meet for conversations all about death without any set prompts or scripts, according to the event’s site. Of course, you could also bring up your fear of dying with your friends and see how the convo evolves from there.

How Is Thanatophobia Diagnosed

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There isnt a test for diagnosing thanatophobia. Your healthcare provider will carefully review your symptoms and ask a variety of questions about your fear of death. They rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or other anxiety disorders.

Healthcare providers typically diagnose specific phobic disorders when:

  • Symptoms last for six months or longer.
  • Symptoms occur as soon as you encounter the feared object or situation.
  • The fear is about a specific object or situation, such as death or the dying process.
  • You go out of your way to avoid the object or situation you fear.
  • You have trouble functioning in your daily life due to your fear.

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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 wasnt 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 Ive ever experienced in my entire life.

Then, I realized I was terrified of death. I became so afraid of it that I almost couldnt go out and go to school because I feared that I wouldnt 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.

Its when I found out that my grandpa had cancer and only a month later, he passed away. Id 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 didnt 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.

Here are my 4 tips on how to stop worrying about death and start enjoying life more:

The Role Of Death Anxiety In Daily Life

The awareness of death is the downside of human intelligence. Life must end for all living beings, but only humans may grasp its existential meaning.

Intellectually we may acknowledge our mortality, but deep down, we deny it. The fear of death is so overwhelming that we keep this knowledge unconscious. The repression of information about mortality results in several cognitive strategies that people use to avoid existential fear of death.

  • Fear of death is normal. We will do just about anything to stay alive. The instincts for self-preservation shape human behavior whenever ones life is actually in danger. Under attack by wild beasts, we will fight or flee. Starving people will steal food. This is why societies reward this ultimate triumph of self-regulation with medals and citations praising the individuals complete disregard for personal safety.
  • Death anxiety is at the core of most of our phobias. Death anxiety is often considered to be one of the most common fears. It appears to be at the core of several mental health disorders, such as health anxiety , panic disorder, agoraphobia, post-traumaticstress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depressive disorders . For example, individuals with panic disorder frequently consult with doctors regarding the fear of dying from a heart attack . Depression after retirement may sometimes function as an anticipation of the ultimate end of existence.
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    How To Overcome Fear Of Death

    When death anxiety becomes a part of your life, you may feel trapped and overwhelmed. Thanatophobia can prevent you from living in the present, from seeking new experience, and from seeing the beautiful things you have today.

    Compared to Eastern culture, Western culture has a more taboo perception of death, which means that many people struggle with death anxiety for a long time before mustering the courage to talk about it. But it doesnt have to be this way. Living with thanatophobia can be emotionally exhausting, so if you have been worrying a lot about death lately, you can take steps to get better.

    Therapy for death anxiety will help you:

    • Accept that death is a natural process
    • Be grateful for your experiences and live in the present
    • Focus on making the most out of your life
    • Make plans for your passing

    Therapy for thanatophobia may also include treatments for a more complex mental health disorder, such as OCD, PTSD, or anxiety, so the exact treatment approach will vary depending on what causes the issue.

    Treating fear of dying is about acceptance but acceptance doesnt mean that you have to like the idea of death or ignore it. It means acknowledging the concept of mortality, but without letting it take over your life.

    Fear Of Loss Of Control

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    Like knowledge, control is something for which humans strive. Yet the act of dying is utterly outside anyone’s control. Those who fear the loss of control may attempt to hold death at bay through rigorous and sometimes extreme health checks and other rituals.

    Over time, it is easy to see how people with this type of thanatophobia may be at risk for obsessive-compulsive disorder , illness anxiety disorder , and even delusional thinking.

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    Fear Of Death From Other Types Of Anxiety

    Other types of anxiety are also associated with a fear of death, although this symptom doesnt occur as often in these disorders as compared to panic disorder. These other anxiety disorders include:

    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a disorder where the mind often thinks negative and stressful thoughts. One of those thoughts may be about death and dying, and if you think about this thought too much it may develop into a fear or phobia.
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Those who develop PTSD after experiencing an especially traumatic event may easily develop a fear of death, often related to the event itself.
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder While it may not affect 100% of all of those with OCD, many people develop obsessions about physical danger. For example: “What if I’m hit by a car today?” or “what if these germs kill me?” This may result in a fear of anything that resembles danger, which is very closely related to a fear of death.

    Symptoms Of Bereavement Grief And Loss

    Bereavement, grief and loss can cause many different symptoms and they affect people in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.

    As well as bereavement, there are other types of loss such as the end of a relationship or losing a job or home.

    Some of the most common symptoms include:

    • shock and numbness this is usually the first reaction to loss, and people often talk about “being in a daze”
    • overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying
    • tiredness or exhaustion
    • anger towards the person you’ve lost or the reason for your loss
    • guilt for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying

    These feelings may not be there all the time and powerful feelings may appear unexpectedly.

    It’s not always easy to recognise when bereavement, grief or loss are the reason you’re acting or feeling differently.

    Experts generally accept that we go through 5 stages of bereavement or grief:

  • Denial feelings of shock, disbelief, panic or confusion
  • Anger feelings and behaviours such as blaming yourself or blaming others
  • Depression feeling tired, hopeless or helpless like you have lost perspective or feel isolated
  • Bargaining feelings of guilt often raise questions like “If only I had done more”
  • Acceptance this does not mean that you like the situation, its about accepting your loss and being ready to move forward
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    How Can Therapy Help To Alleviate Anxiety During Grief

    Therapy can be very helpful in learning how to embrace both anxiety and grief. According to Gabrielle Ferrara, By accepting grief as something that is there, but not allowing it to take over your life or become the largest factor of your existence, therapy can help to guide our efforts to cope, she says.

    Additionally, Ferrara also states that We dont necessarily have to have a goal of getting rid of grief. A lot of times, people come to therapy not wanting to feel anxious or sad anymore. And I usually challenge these types of thoughts by letting patients know that yes, we are going to feel these things. And when we try to push them away, theyre just going to come back stronger.

    Therapy can also offer plenty of tools and techniques for coping with grief such as:

    • Building coping skills
    • Offering a safe place of support
    • Practicing mindfulness
    • Engaging in grounding techniques

    In addition, according to Ferrara, Grounding techniques can be very helpful for grief management because they bring you back to the present moment and to where you are right now instead of focusing on the past loss, or in thinking of an eventual loss in the future.

    Support groups are also highly beneficial for grief management because when we reach out to friends or loved ones, we often find the support and safety that were looking for to deal with such uncertainty in our lives.

    Signs Of An Anxiety Attack

    Coping With Anxiety Quotes. QuotesGram

    These are some of the more common mental and physical symptoms of anxiety:

    • feelings of danger, panic, or dread
    • nervousness or restlessness
    • numbness or tingling in your extremities
    • feeling hot or cold

    If you notice that quick tips havent been working, you may want to consider seeing a professional for help. Especially if you believe you have GAD and its interfering with routine activities and causing physical symptoms.

    A mental health professional can help with streamlining the process of identifying your triggers, maintaining long-term strategies through behavioral therapy, medications, and more.

    Anxiety may always be a part of your life, but it shouldnt overtake your day-to-day. Even the most extreme anxiety disorders can be treated so that the symptoms arent overwhelming.

    Once you find what treatment works best for you, life should be a lot more enjoyable and a lot less daunting.

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    Why We Fear Death

    We dont have a great picture of why some people experience debilitating death anxiety and why others dont, but theres a fair amount of research showing that certain people are more likely to deal with dread of death in their lifetimes.

    People who are retired, elderly or terminally ill are common groups affected by the fear of death.

    Its fair to assume that this is because for these groups, the fear of death may represent a more acute, immediate and quantifiable end than for those who dont have an expectation that death is just around the corner.

    But death anxiety also tends to affect some people more severely, based on a variety of mental health factors. Fear of death may more intensely affect people who are experiencing mental disorders or who may be dealing with the following:

    • Lack of intimacy in relationships

    • Lack of fulfillment

    Fear of death can more adversely affect people who are anxious or depressed, or who are dealing with unresolved distress, psychologically or physically.

    Interestingly, people adjacent to those who are elderly or terminally ill also can develop a fear of death more frequently.

    A 2010 report showed that death anxiety could not only impact patients suffering from terminal diseases like AIDS and advanced cancer, but it could also affect family caregivers. In fact, the caregivers showed symptoms of death anxiety similar to those dying from illness.

    That said, the symptoms of death anxiety felt by the terminally ill were measurably greater.

    The Only Movie That Helped

    My husband introduced me to The Shift by Dr.Wayne Dyer a few years ago. If youre 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 its preventing you from experiencing life to its fullest, and how surrendering is the best way to combat death anxiety.

    Recommended Reading: How To Help Panic And Anxiety Attacks

    Ground Yourself In The Present Moment

    Not reading into your repeated thoughts about your loved ones death is all well and good. But in that moment, after telling yourself to let go of the thought, what do you fill your mental space with instead? I bet you know from experience that its very easy to slip right back into the worried-thoughts rabbit hole unless youre actively engaged in something else.

    Practice shifting your attention to whats going on in the here and now, in your body and your surroundings.

    So go ahead and ground yourself in the present moment with some engaging activity. You can certainly watch some TV or play a game to distract yourself, but I challenge you to try for more than simple distraction.

    Practice shifting your attention to whats going on in the here and now, in your body and your surroundings. Name what you can see, hear, feel, and smell in this moment. Follow the rhythm of your breath for a few minutes. This strengthens your opens in a new windowmindfulness muscles, making it easier to prevent yourself from going up the what-if tree next time.

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