What Is Thanatophobia? Exploring The Fear of Dying
“I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.” —Epictetus
The concept of death is highly regarded as one that evokes not only feelings of negativity but also makes one feel vulnerable to the unknown certainties of perishable human life. Instead of being willing to contact them, the feeling of having all difficult emotions and conversations up your sleeve can make it easier to work with. Furthermore, you can escape the immediate emotions that are uncomfortable to deal with, if only temporarily. Before exploring the concept of thanatophobia in depth, it is crucial to know why it is known as the fear of dying.
What is a phobia?
Phobias are more visible than fears. Phobias appear when you experience an exaggerated or unrealistic fear of a situation or object. If a phobia becomes severe, your life may be organised around avoiding the source of your anxiety. It can cause a lot of distress as well as limit your day-to-day life. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM-V) classifies thanatophobia as a type of anxiety disorder under “specific phobia.” This manual provides all the necessary information and specific criteria that are used to help diagnose mental health conditions. Do you know when this phobia was discovered and who was the psychologist to coin this term? If not, then you will find an answer to this further along.
The origin of the term ‘Thanatophobia’
Death anxiety is prevalent in our lives and affects each of us in a different way. This phobia has been defined as a sense of dread, anxiety, or fear at the thought of death or anything related to death. In his seminal essay titled Thoughts for the Time on War and Death, Sigmund Freund coined the term “thanatophobia” to describe this anxiety related to the fear of death in 1915. According to Freud, it was caused by an unconscious belief in one’s own immortality (the ability to live forever). The word “thanatophobia’ derives its meaning from two Greek words, “thanatos,” meaning “death,” and “phobia,” which derives from the term “Phobos,” also known as ‘outward show of fear, terror, and panic.’
Why do some of us fear death?
Fear of death is a phobia, and it comes with its own name, as do other phobias: thanatophobia. It’s natural to be concerned about death or dying. After all, it’s natural to be afraid of the unknown. You might believe that dying will be frightening, unpleasant, or lonely. However, if you have thanatophobia, your fear of dying interferes with your daily existence. It may make functioning at school, on the job, or in social circumstances challenging. When you anticipate dying, you may feel bodily symptoms such as a panic attack. Alternatively, you may go out of your way to avoid mentioning death or the dying process. However, it is very commonly found that people from all walks of life may develop a fear of death due to external situations or internal factors.
What are the causes and symptoms of Thanatophobia?
There are numerous causes for one to develop the fear of dying, and it can also manifest itself through various physical as well as psychological symptoms. All in all, it can be triggered by a specific event or past experiences of an individual.
1) Have had a traumatic death or dying experience.
2) You have lost a parent or a loved one.
3) Witness someone dying in a difficult or painful manner.
4) It is commonly found in middle-aged people and gradually decreases as a person becomes elderly.
Thanatophobia is more prevalent in patients who have self-esteem issues, health concerns, or a lack of religious belief. Thanatophobia symptoms can manifest physically as well as emotionally. Intense thoughts may also resemble the symptoms of a panic attack, like chills, nausea, shortness of breath (dyspnea), trembling or shaking, headaches, excessive sweating, etc.
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How can thanatophobia be dealt with?
Like many other mental health disorders, thanatophobia can best be dealt with using a multimodal approach of therapy and a mix of medicines, if required, along with, a plethora of coping techniques.
Therapy: This is a primary treatment method for phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective module used for thanatophobia and helps in identifying negative behaviors, thoughts patterns, and feelings about death and dying and changing them.
Exposure therapy, a type of CBT, involves gradual exposure to the object of fear while working through the anxiety symptoms with positive self-talk and relaxation techniques.
Medication: Antidepressants, such as SSRIs and SNRIs, are very commonly used to combat the symptoms of anxiety that often flare up because of this condition.
Coping Techniques: These help to alleviate the anxiety that comes with the fear of death. The techniques include exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine, eating a healthy diet, releasing emotions through therapy, practicing mindfulness, and so on.
It is always important to remember that living with this condition may make you feel isolated, but the real deal is that this condition is common throughout the world and you are not alone!