FEAR OF DEATH

Those who fear death most are those who enjoy life least.” – Edward Abbey

If you are afraid to die, you are not alone.  Everyone owns a little fear throughout their lives.  The amount you own is the real question.  To help rid yourself of some of these fears start by looking for the causes or triggers.  The fear of death is the granddaddy of all fears and goes by many names.  The medical term for a general fear of death is called Thanatophobia. 

Here is a list of some of those triggers:

1. Hereditary, Biological, Environmental Causes. Because of the enormous breadth of this fear, it is recommended to have a medical examination to eliminate some physiochemical causes. For example, levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other bio-chemicals associated with neurotransmitters may need to be measured.  If a parent or grandparent had/has fears associated with death there may be a genetic connection.  Environmental chemicals may have an influence as well as radiation differences that change with elevation. 

Studies of identical twins separated at birth and subjected to different environments have shown some interesting results. [Kendler KS, Prescott CA, Myers J, Neale MC. (2003) The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for common psychiatric and substance use disorders in men and women. Archives of General Psychiatry. 60:929–937.] 

Many of these triggers or causes do not lend themselves to self-diagnosis and usually require professional assistance. 

2. Manipulation. There is a high probability that the fear of death is the result of manipulation.   This may be the largest component to the fear of death in today’s society.   The media, entertainment, and quasi-political industry have pushed emotional limits to the breaking point.  We are constantly bombarded with death scenarios.  There are many examples from the recent past.  Nuclear annihilation was a threat to the existence of the human race.   Even Hollywood gave us a nuclear meltdown to the center of the earth (which, coincidentally, is a scientific impossibility).  Pesticides like DDT were going to wipe out mankind.  Carbon Dioxide is going to cause a fireball earth.  And now we have pestilence from a viral pandemic (historically, no animal species has ever been annihilated from a virus).  All of these doom and gloom scenarios are false.  They are meant to influence the human “superego” and create a gigantic guilt trip.  This in turn forces us to watch more television, more social media, and more entertainment venues.   This manipulation is so pervasive that it has its own section on this website. 

3. Graveyards, Tombstones, Funerals. Does driving by a graveyard, funeral home, funeral procession, or looking at photos of funerals cause you to think of dying?  It is important to note what popped into your head at that instant.  Timing is important. 

If your first thoughts were of your death, then the next thing is to try and remember when you began having these fears.  Narrow this period down to a 1 to 5 year span if you can.  Recalling where you were when that happened would be even more helpful.  Next, try and remember if you witnessed any perceived (does not have to be real) life-threatening or near-death trauma.  Were you in an accident where you or a friend was seriously injured or killed?  Were you hospitalized during that time period for any injury or sickness?  Were you assaulted or the victim of a serious violent crime?  Were you in the military where a fellow soldier was killed or seriously injured?  The list of potential reasons may be long. 

Were your first thoughts directed at someone else’s death like a friend or family member?   Again, narrow down the time period.  This time add questions regarding funerals.  Did you attend a funeral or funerals during this period?  Did the funeral make you incredibly sad?  Did something happen during the funeral or funeral procession?  Did you feel that someone was trying to communicate with you?  If so, can you remember what they said?  If these recollections are stressful, it signals that you may be on the right track to determining the cause of your fear.  At the same time, if you do find the memories produce some anxiety, it may be a good time to seek some professional help. Leading the rest of your life filled with stress is not worth it.  

However, understanding the reason for your fear may be the only thing you need to reduce your fear level.  There is an entire section of this website dealing with how to “solve” fear and it includes a generous dose of JOY

4. Dead Animals. This is called Necrophobia.  Does seeing a dead animal or a movie showing dead animals invoke anxiety?  If your first thought is about your own death, follow the steps discussed above.  If your first thought relates to the animal’s death, then it may be associated with running over an animal, or the loss of a pet.  It is commonplace for grieving pet owners to irrationally carry a burdensome guilt.  There are studies showing that many pet owners suffer a PTSD-type depression after the loss of a pet.  One of the best ways to reduce this depression might be to get another pet.

Sometimes seeing dead animals triggers a guilt trip associated with humans eating meat.  Over the last 30 years, the media and entertainment industry have been engaged in a strong anti-meat crusade.  The killing of animals for food has been almost entirely removed from public view.  This leaves each subsequent generation believing that meat is manufactured in a factory, like cell phones.  This societal influence causes the “superego” to generate a guilt trip.  The human race is genetically designed to eat meat.  It is normal and is a natural aspect of our biology.

5. Coffin. This is a complicated issue.  It deals with both death and the fear of being buried alive.  They are different fears, yet connected.  The fear of being buried alive was so common that they used to market “safety coffins.”  These involved the use of a bell installed on the headstone with a string that ended in the coffin.  That way if the person in the coffin was not dead, they could ring the bell.  If you are afraid of coffins, chances are that it is more related to a fear of being buried alive. 

To determine whether the fear is of death or of being buried alive take this simple test.  Look at a photo of a coffin.  If the image that popped into your head was gasping for air, you most likely narrowed the root cause to being buried alive.  Then follow the same procedure out lined in paragraph 3.  Did you have a near drowning incident or witness one?  Did you get stuck in a cave and couldn’t move?  Did you wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air?  Did you choke on some food?   Were you locked in a closet or tight room?  Were you paralyzed by a trauma or disease?  There are many potential traumas for you to explore. 

6. Overprotective Parents. If there is no trauma and no manipulation, there is the possibility that an overprotective parent has triggered the fear.  With respect to death, an overprotective parent will often isolate the child from visiting a dying friend, parent, or grandparent.  Death is a fundamental part of life.  Shielding them from that will likely cause fears and problems later.  Children should be told about an important death as soon as convenient and the words death or died should be used.  They will be hearing those terms at school or from friends. Candy-coating the words will not protect them.  Crying or grieving does not hurt the child.  The child should be allowed to attend the funeral.  On the other hand, it is not being overly protective for a parent to withhold a viewing of the deceased for a child under 10.  That is a decision for the parent.  There are many books and publications dealing with over-protection.  Dr. Benjamin Spock’s advice to parents was to “loosen up, back off, and let the child go.”  His simple advise was to love them, feed them when they are hungry, and don’t put them on a schedule.  He sold 50 million copies of his book in 39 languages. 

7. Religious Influences. There is no question that spiritual beliefs play a calming influence over death and the after-life.  This is discussed in more detail on the sections “Solve it” and “Joy.”  However, certain aspects of religions can impart a certain amount of fear.  These normally manifest themselves in the form of demons and devils, such as displayed in Dante’s Inferno.  Gargoyles are demons that adorn the roofs of many religious temples.  If the fear of death involves a supernatural or underworld demonic creature, there may be a religious connection present.  This is so common that it has its own named phobia called Daemonophobia.  Whenever there is a suspected religious connection, a consultation with mainstream religious leaders may be helpful.  

8. Personality Type Connection:  There is a lack of credible scientific studies that connect the propensity of a personality type to a particular fear.  That does not stop people from having opinions on the subject.  One opinion is that type-B personalities may be most affected by death.  That personality type is based on interrelationships. And death is the ultimate terminator of that relationship.  D-types might come in second, followed by A-types. 

A few famous people that have been known to have this fear include: Sarah Michele Gellar, Emma Stone, Meryl Strep, Tom Cruise, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Martin Luther King, Babe Ruth, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and a long list of other people.  

Those who feared being buried alive include: Edgar Allan Poe, Hans Christian Andersen, Frederic Chopin, George Washington, Alfred Nobel, Auguste Renoir, etc.