You’re in the hallway in between your room and the bathroom. You’re frozen still; it feels as though your whole body has gone cold. You don’t know how you got there, but somehow you can’t move no matter how many times you try to. You hear choking and gasping sounds coming from down the hall. Your eyes zero in and focus. You see it is your relative. You scream, but no sound comes out. Just as the hopelessness creeps in to consume you, you wake up in a pool of sweat, your chest heaving up and down rapidly. Yes, you had that dream again.
Nightmares occur to all of us, sometimes more to some than others, especially when a traumatic experience has occurred to you or a loved one. Any near-death experience can be damaging long-term. It can cause PTSD, as well as death anxiety. Death anxiety, also known as thanatophobia, is the fear of one’s death or the process of dying. This overwhelming sense of fear can stem from the realization that death is inevitable, for you and for the loved ones in your life. This can be a gateway to the fear of dealing with loss and the fear of separation. Death anxiety does not always arise when someone experiences a near-death experience, as the fear can come about randomly. Granted, the fear of death and the idea of loved ones dying are common. However, it becomes an issue when it affects daily life. Tasks such as going to work or school or simply getting out of bed may feel like a huge hurdle to someone who suffers from death anxiety because it restricts them from being able to step foot out of their house in fear of stepping into their last day on Earth.
When the heavy weight of fear starts to creep up on people who suffer from death anxiety, symptoms can include panic attacks, hot flashes, dizziness, sweating, irregular heart rate, stomach pains, feeling sick, etc. All of these physical issues can arise in a person because of the mere thought of death. Depression can occur as well as other mental illnesses such as PTSD, panic disorders, or specific phobias that can link to death.
Death anxiety can also stem from sustaining an injury. Studies have shown that people who sustained a spinal injury had high levels of death anxiety and PTSD. Spinal injuries can easily lead to paralysis and other health issues that can end in death. Also, people who have contracted HIV have higher levels of death anxiety because society has stigmatized HIV so much thinking if you contract this virus, it is a death sentence; thoughts of death are bound to arise and cloud the mind of this person. Overall, being placed under these stressful conditions can be the beginning of death anxiety.
A possible solution to death anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which works by gradually altering a person’s behavior or the way they think. Exposure therapy is another possible treatment, which involves gradually exposing the person to their fear, with hopes that the individual will slowly overcome it. In addition, this type of therapy confronts their feelings, aiming to find the source of these fears. Lastly, it is important to be there for the person suffering from death anxiety as a friend because it can be easy for an individual to forget their options. As a result, a friend’s presence, whether it be a positive push in the right direction or encouragement to seek treatment, can result in a better quality of life.
Cadman, B. (2018, May 25). Thanatophobia: What to know about death anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321939.php#causes-and-types.
Gbenga. (n.d.). ANXIETY AND FEAR IN RELATION TO DEATH. Retrieved from https://steemit.com/life/@gbenga/anxiety-and-fear-in-relation-to-death.
Hoelterhoff, M., & Chung, M. C. (2013). Death anxiety and well-being; coping with life-threatening events. Traumatology, 19(4), 280–291. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1177/1534765613477499