What is Thanatophobia?

Thanatophobia is an extreme fear of death or the dying process. It can involve being scared of your own death or the death of loved ones. The truth is that most of us worry about our health and at times, worry about dying, after all our instinct is to survive. However, someone with thanatophobia considers death all the time or has obsessive thoughts of death or dying on a regular basis.

How does Thanatophobia start?

A phobia is a symptom. No one is born with a phobia which means that something has happened in your life that has then gone on to give you a heightened awareness of death. This could be an event which felt traumatic to you at the time. Common triggers could be: 

  • Being told as a child that someone close has died and not actually understanding what that meant.
  • Witnessing someone die.
  • Having a near-death experience.
  • A traumatic event associated with death or dying. 
  • Conversations during adolescence.
  • Films

Overcoming Thanatophobia

The great news is that thanatophobia can be completely overcome. It is vital to address and alter your perception of the event/events that created your phobia in the first place. Once you change your perception of the thing in question, you will change how you feel. So to address and overcome your phobia, firstly establish when it started. Writing a timeline will help you do this. We have a PDF timeline sheet for you to download and fill in. Next, start by following these top tips:

  1. Firstly, Acknowledge your fear: It’s important to recognise that feeling scared or anxious about death is a normal part of the human experience. It’s okay to feel this way, and it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.

  2. Practice mindfulness: Focusing on the present moment can help you feel more grounded and less consumed by worries about the future. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga are examples of mindfulness practices that can help you manage your fear.

  3. Change your perspective: Alter your perception of the installation event, see it for what it was and not how it felt and still feels. If you know that your thanatophobia started in childhood, accept that your fear is based on a child’s interpretation of what happened. Would you take a child’s advice now on how to look at life and the world? 

  4. Re-analyse the event: What actually happened? Was the family member that died sick? Maybe they had an illness that you were not aware of. If you have ever felt that your life has been threatened through illness, this could have a positive outcome and potentially make you healthier as you will go on to have regular check-ups. Updating your view of the trigger event will help you see it differently. 

  5. Challenge the inaccurate belief that triggered your phobia with overwhelming positive counter-evidence: For example, if you experienced a near-death experience, the fact that you are reading this means you are a survivor. 

  6. Accept responsibility for conquering your fear: Make the decision to stop feeding it. Our thoughts create our feelings. Our feelings create our actions. And our actions define our lives. So it is really important to change your way of thinking.

  7. Engage in meaningful activities: Doing things that bring you joy and fulfillment can help you feel more connected to life and less preoccupied with death.

  8. Educate yourself: Learning more about death and the dying process can help demystify it and reduce some of the fear associated with it. Reading books or articles, attending workshops or support groups, or watching documentaries can all be helpful.

  9. Seek support: Talking to a trusted friend or family member, a therapist, or a charity can help you process your emotions and gain perspective on your fears.

  10. Finally remember: We only die once but we live every day so make each day the best you can and live the healthiest life possible. 

Living with thanatophobia can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their mental health issues if given the right help and support. Read more…