For centuries, the concept of death has been a hot topic of conversation. It has fueled passionate poetry, sparked creativity with famous writers, led to countless debates amongst philosophers, and is incorporated in many religious beliefs. However, although each of these fields are vastly different, the overall message is basically the same — we shouldn’t be afraid of dying. The Grim Reaper will come for everyone eventually, so there’s no reason to spend life in its shadow. Unfortunately, the fear of death can be intense, even debilitating for some people. It can become so pronounced that people take some pretty drastic measures to overcome it. One far-fetched example that stems from critics of cryonics is that the only reason people sign up for cryopreservation is because they’re scared of dying. However, this isn’t an accurate assessment of most peoples’ motivators. People sign up because of their love for life, curiosity about the future, and because they have nothing to lose from the decision. Only a small percentage actually do so because of their fear of dying. To help you gain a better understanding of the fear of death, we aim to define it and provide you with a few practical options that can help you overcome it.
What is the Fear of Death?
Death is the ultimate unknown. There are countless speculations about what happens after we die, but no hard evidence to prove any of them. In regard to our mortality, theoretical applications are the only possibility. This can make a lot of people nervous about the topic, or even scared. Many people tend to associate death with sadness, grief, terror, and anxiety, but contemplating our mortality can lead us to make important life changes.
A “healthy” fear of death can influence better lifestyle habits, more mindfulness, and a stronger sense of meaning. Thinking about death also provides opportunities for self-reflection, allowing us to take the time to realign our actions with our values. So, what’s considered normal and what’s considered obsessive? There are a few key distinctions.
Is it Normal to Think About Death?
For most people, the fear of death doesn’t plague daily life. People don’t tend to walk around thinking about the inevitable passage of time and impending doom. However, during major events — like the passing of a loved one or terminal diagnosis — death seeps into conscious awareness. Naturally, this can spark a mild fear or, at the very least, some anxiety about the subject. This is completely normal. In fact, even some of the most successful and happiest people on Earth can’t help the urge to contemplate death from time to time. It’s part of human nature.
Different Contributors to the Fear of Death
There are several different things that contribute to the fear of death. What makes one person uneasy may not be the source of fear for another. To better understand your emotions, it’s important to consider the motivating factors behind your fear of death. The following are some of the most common contributors.
- Fear of the Unknown — death is the ultimate unknown. There’s no way for us to know what happens after we die, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable and afraid for it to happen. This is similar to the driving fear behind swimming in an open ocean.
- Fear of Pain and Suffering — a lot of people are more so afraid of the actual act of dying than “death” itself. They may be worried that death will be accompanied by a lot of physical pain and suffering. This is normal, especially if you think of death in terms of terminal illnesses.
- Fear of Non-Existence — another reason that someone may fear death is because they begin thinking about how they will cease to exist. This can be a difficult truth to face, and is also commonly associated with religious or spiritual related fears.
- Spiritual-Related Fears — some people become more afraid of death due to their religious beliefs. While certain individuals find comfort and confidence in an afterlife, others may be afraid for the results of their eternity or eternal punishment.
- Fear of Losing Control — it’s normal to want to control situations about your life. Yet you have no control over the fact that you will someday die. This can often result in avoidance behaviors or obsessive health checks in an attempt to gain control over the idea of death.
- Fear of Leaving Behind Loved Ones — another contributor to the fear of death is the thought of what will happen to your loved ones when you’re gone. This tends to be a driving force behind unease for caregivers and parents.
Although it’s normal to fear death, there are limitations to this. A lot of thoughts relating to death are spurred by life events or even religious beliefs. The various factors that contribute to this fear make it completely natural to go through difficult times. However, if you experience a fear so intense that it interferes with your ability to function or think about literally anything else, you may be experiencing death anxiety.
Death anxiety, also known as thanatophobia, affects about 3% to 10% of the population. It’s characterized by a fear that’s so intense, it can manifest physical symptoms or even panic attacks. Other symptoms could include a shortness of breath, increased heart beat, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, or sweating — all of which occur once an individual begins to think about death. Although thanatophobia is not listed specifically in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), phobias (in general) are a type of anxiety disorder.
If you experience any signs or symptoms of thanatophobia, it’s important to see a mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Getting additional help to overcome this intense fear is the best way to avoid letting death rule your life.
Tips for Overcoming the Fear of Death
The fear of death is normal and, quite frankly, as inevitable as the event of dying itself. We will all think about death at some point or another, but if you’re experiencing overwhelming anxiety about the subject, it’s best to see a licensed, healthcare professional. If you find yourself thinking about death every once in a while and find that it accompanies discomfort, there are some things you can do. For help, consider some of the following tips for overcoming the fear of death.
Work on Acceptance
Death is inevitable, so the sooner that we accept it will come, the sooner we can focus on living. However, this is easier said than done. It takes time and commitment and maybe even a little professional help. Working with a therapist is an excellent way to cultivate acceptance and shift your mindset about death.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
A few studies have found that individuals with better physical health tend to feel like there is more meaning in life and have better mental health. This leads to a reduction in the fear of death. This suggests that by taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle and improve your overall physical health, you can reduce the anxiety that surrounds death.
Mindfulness is a great way to overcome your fear of death as it allows you to recognize the little things that make each minute unique. Try to focus all of your attention on whatever you’re doing in the moment and bring intention to your actions. You can also spend some time rhythmically breathing, meditating, or practicing yoga.
One of the best ways to overcome the fear of death is to live a life that’s filled with meaning. Popular opinion seems to be that the more meaningful your life is, the less the topic of death bothers you. To begin, take some time to identify your core values — define your “why.” What gets you out of bed each day? What are your goals? Hopes? Dreams? Aspirations? What character traits do you want to be known for? Take some time to brainstorm some of these values and how you can live your life in alignment with them. This can help cultivate meaning and reduce the severity of negative thoughts surrounding death.
Make Plans for Your Future
Knowing what will happen after your legal death can give you reassurance during life. Make plans for your future by creating a patience advance directive, writing your will, and talking to friends and family members about what you want to happen to your body after death. This could include what you want to do with your body after passing (organ donation, human cryopreservation, traditional burial, cremation, etc.) and how you want your funeral to be organized.
Talk About Death
Finally, we can’t sit around and pretend like death doesn’t exist. There are several cultures that live with the denial that someday, they too will die. However, while you may think that avoiding the subject can reduce the fear you experience, the opposite is actually true. The more you repress the topic of death, the scarier it gets. Don’t be afraid to bring death up and generate meaningful conversation around it. Just maybe reserve your conversations of mortality to appropriate times. Bringing it up to guests at a baby shower or a wedding reception isn’t likely going to be well received.
How is Cryopreservation Associated with the Fear of Dying?
Cryopreservation is the process of preserving organisms with the help of sub-freezing temperatures. Many people assume that the only reason someone would sign up for this service is because they’re afraid of dying. Cryopreservation can help alleviate fears of dying, as it gives members hope for a second chance at life in the future.
While fear may be a motivator for some people who sign up for cryopreservation, it’s not the only one. In fact, only a very small percentage sign up because of fear of death. It could be a factor in their decision, but there are several motivating reasons that people decide to opt for cryopreservation.
- A Chance for a More Life — most of the people that choose cryopreservation do so because they genuinely love living. They enjoy pursuing their passion and achieving their goals and aren’t ready to give all of that up. Cryopreservation gives them the possible chance to extend life and continue enjoying it for longer (maybe even forever). This, not fear of death, is the primary motivation behind signing up for cryopreservation.
- Curious About the Future — another reason that many people decide to sign up for cryopreservation is out of simple curiosity. They’re interested in seeing how things evolve and develop over time. Will there be flying cars? Intergalactic space travel? Alien life forms living on Earth? Will aging be cured? All of these questions and more act as motivators for cryonics.
- Why Not? — many people who sign up for cryopreservation also do so because… well, why not? The alternative is either being buried or cremated, both of which options are absolutes.
Having a healthy fear of death is normal and can actually have a pretty positive impact on your life. It can lead to healthy lifestyle changes and a stronger appreciation for living in the moment. If you, like all of our members, love living and want to give the potential for future revival a chance, sign up for cryopreservation today! If you have any questions, schedule a call with one of our team members to get more information on the field of cryonics.