Thanatophobia: Fear of Death - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

No one can escape the bitter truth that we will all die someday. It’s completely normal to be concerned of one’s well being and fear deadly or threatening situations in life. However, some people may find themselves having such a strong and intense fear of death that he/she cannot think of anything else. Such a condition is known as thanatophobia.

Thanatophobia has been derived from Greek word “Thanatos” meaning death. This is persistent and extreme fear of death or dying without any logical explanation. The fear can reach to the extent that the person halts all the daily activities and avoids going out from the home to remain safe. This phobia is completely different from necrophobia which is fear of dead things.

thanatophobia, fear of death

What Causes Thanatophobia?

Various causes can be responsible for developing thanatophobia in people. They are:

A Traumatic Experience

Thanatophobia can be associated strongly from a previous traumatic experience where the person was exposed to the threat of dying. These can be accidents, disasters, serious illness, violent attacks or abuse. It can also be an outcome of witnessing someone else or a loved one die or go through a deadly situation.

Religious factors

Thanatophobia can also be associated with religion. Almost all the existing religions have claimed different explanations about the afterlife, heaven and hell. Some people might develop thanatophobia being extremely cautious of what might happen after dying or where they’ll be.

Symptoms of Thanatophobia

Common symptoms that can occur with thanatophobia are:

  • Irrelevant and extreme fear of death or that one will die
  • Associated fear of cremation, burial, tombstones or fear of unknown/afterlife
  • Increased alertness about any danger or threat to life such s during driving or during sickness (almost all times being irrelevant)
  • Repetitive and distressful thoughts about dying
  • Clingy behavior towards elder people or guardians ( only in children)
  • Complete avoidance of any situation that may be associated with death or threats to life (one might stop going outside of one’s home to remain safe)
  • Not being able to differentiate between real and unreal things
  • Panic attacks accompanied by physical signs like trembling, dizziness or fainting, nausea or vomiting, abdominal uneasiness, racing heart beat, chest pain and sweating

When to Visit a Doctor?

The person having thanatophobia can reach to a point where the person starts avoiding external contact with the outside world with the motive to prevent any threats to life. In such condition when the symptoms have reached over six months time and affected the normal life extensively, one needs to consult with a doctor.

How is Thanatophobia treated?

Different therapies and medicines have been seen to effectively control thanatophobia in people. They are:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral therapy is one of the most effective therapies used for treating people with thanatophobia. It is aimed at understand the underlying thoughts and beliefs related with death that are causing distress to the patient. The therapist tries making the person aware of the reality and convinces that he/she is not dying. Moreover, the major goal is to implant positive thoughts in the person in place of the fearful images.

Relaxation Techniques

The therapist also teaches various relaxation exercises to the person to cope with panicking and fear whenever he/she goes through a phobic episode. These include meditation, breathing exercises, muscle release exercises and mind visualization exercises.

Religious Counseling

Religious counseling can also help with controlling the symptoms of thanatophobia. Most of the times, the phobia can be caused by false beliefs regarding death and afterlife. A religious counseling where the person gets religious knowledge and facts might help with calming down the fear.

Medications

In severe cases, medications can also used to control the fear and anxiety. Generally, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medicines are used under the prescription from a doctor.

Support groups

A person can also try helping oneself by joining a support group. A support group will have people going through same fear and problems. Hearing their stories and sharing one’s own trouble would help to release the stress and deal with the anxiety more effectively.