Thanatophobia, Fear Of Death

Thanatophobia is the irrational and irrepressible fear of dying, which can interfere with everyday activities. Anxiety, panic attacks and depressive symptoms are some of the symptoms.
Thanatophobia, the fear of death

The idea that one day we will no longer be there is likely to make most of us uncomfortable. For some, however, the thought is so terrifying that it prevents them from leading a normal life. In this case we speak of thanatophobia. Fear of dying is normal, but becomes maladaptive when very high levels of malaise are reached.

Thanatophobia is often paralyzing and this type of thinking emerges obsessively. Although death is a natural event, we don’t really understand why.

Thanatophobia in everyday life

Those who suffer from thanatophobia are obsessed with the idea of ​​their own death. Avoid places like hospitals or cemeteries, as well as watching very violent movies, seeing coffins, or anything related to death.


The symptoms expressed by those suffering from thanatophobia are different:

  • Anxiety.
  • Thoughts of death (his own and that of loved ones) obsessive and constant.
  • Depressive moods or depression.
  • Anguish.
  • Avoidance behaviors on everything related to death.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Sleep disorders.

What lies behind thanatophobia?

A trauma

Many people with fear of death have experienced an intense mourning event. This is the case, for example, of those who have survived a serious road accident or an attack.

Thanatophobia can also be triggered by the death of a family member or an event related to death, real or imagined. Even a movie can be a factor that sows fear.

The learned fear

The positions concerning the afterlife are different. There are those who believe in eternal life, those who defend the idea of ​​reincarnation or rebirth. For others, after death, there is nothing.

Nonetheless, the thought of death is generally unsettling. Living in a society that fears death increases the individual’s chances of being afraid of it.

In a culture that believes in rebirth, fear is less felt and probably the present life will be lived with the intention of accessing a good rebirth in the next life.

Whether or not there is something to expect is a personal matter, but it is obvious that our beliefs can foster serenity or inspire fear.

The desire to hide death

A society that hides death is a society that does not accept it. A healthy relationship is therefore unlikely to be encouraged with this important step.

Although news of tragedies and disasters abound in newspapers and on television, we tend to shy away from the idea of ​​our death. Learning that someone has left life saddens us, but the thought that one day it will touch us, in addition to causing sadness, can generate strong anxiety and malaise. 

Gala Leòn’s team (2002) describes this attitude as follows: “with this attempt at concealment and denial we channel ourselves into a backward evolutionary process (retroprocess) that leads us to less mature and lower stages of the evolutionary process it’s about our attitude towards death ”.

Worried man with lowered head.

The dissolution of one’s own identity

Another relevant aspect behind the fear of dying is the loss of identity. A loss which, in principle, presupposes the lack of notion of a sensing ego. To die is to stop feeling. The ego is extinguished and everything that we have been stops being.

We cling to a static concept of identity which, by its nature, is instead transitory. But when we realize we need to let go of our body and our identity, fear is sometimes paralyzing.

Fears at the end of life

According to the Gala León team, a series of fears emerge at the end of life; these can intensify the fear we in themselves tend to feel:

  • Of death. Thinking that you will feel physical or psychological pain can cause distress in many people.
  • To lose control of things. When we come to an end and our bodies lose strength, others often have to decide for us.
  • Of what will happen to those who survive our death. The conditions in which we leave our loved ones are a source of great concern. Will they be okay? Will they suffer? Will everything stay in order?
  • Of the fear of others. Observing fear in others can increase our own.
  • Of the unknown. What is after death? What do you feel before you leave?
  • That life lived had no meaning.

How is Thanatophobia treated?

The most used treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy. It focuses on both behavioral and cognitive and physiological levels. The team of Mercedes Bordas (2011), from the University of Seville, proposes a series of objectives:

  • Check for anxiety symptoms. On a physiological level, it is a question of controlling those symptoms that appear to be related to the idea of ​​death. On a cognitive level, we work on thoughts related to death. Relaxation techniques are also used through breathing or progressive relaxation.
  • Reduce avoidance behaviors, both simulated and live.
  • Lower the levels of emotional distress associated with the experience of death. Cognitive restructuring, from this point of view, is essential when you want to work on thanatophobia.
Thanatophobia can be cured by relying on a psychologist.


Although death is one of the many steps in life, it is normal to feel fear or respect towards it. However, if it is so intense that it prevents us from living normally, the appropriate choice is to seek professional help.

Good support provides the tools to prevent fear from blocking us. This way we will return to enjoy our activities as we always have. What really matters is not to die, but to live fully and appreciate every little gift that life offers us.

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