Fear of death (lat. “thanatophobia”) is a compulsive fear of dying. One of the widespread phobias, especially among residents of big cities.

Thanatophobia is characterized by unpleasant intrusive thoughts about one’s death. At the same time, more often than not, there is an understanding that there are no grounds for death (the presence of diseases or real life-threatening circumstances). The person seized with these intrusive thoughts is drawn to them, tries to struggle against them, avoid them, etc.

Thanatophobia may occur in the form of attacks, between which the person feels good. Or in the form of constant anxiety with a constant obsessive fear of the onset of death.

Thanatophobia (compulsive fear of death) should not be confused with the usual fear of death of any healthy person. Below, in the table, are the essential differences between them.

Realizing that his or her own efforts to get rid of them are insufficient, the person suffering from thanatophobia begins to avoid the places or situations where these thoughts were triggered. For example, if the fear of death was in the subway, he begins to avoid it, if the anxiety condition developed in an environment of people, people try not to visit unnecessary places. This is how “avoidance behavior” is formed – a type of neurotic personality development inherent in many phobias.

We observed patients who, due to such obsessive fears, did not leave the house for years, did not go to public places, did not use automobiles, etc.

What causes the development of thanatophobia

The cause of the compulsive fear of death is morbid anxiety. The structures of the brain responsible for the development of anxiety begin to overexcite and as a consequence, the person begins to experience general tension and anxiety, which develops into compulsive fears. As a rule, the fear of death is triggered by some “trigger factor. This can be a panic attack, a vegetative reaction, news of the death of a known person, etc.

Prolonged intrusive fears disrupt the metabolism of brain neurotransmitters, alter the processes of excitation between neurons, which can cause the development of other fears – of open or confined spaces, fear to lose control over themselves, fear to go mad, fear to fall ill with a serious disease, fear to suffocate, etc.

Thanatophobia is predisposed to people with a certain mental organization. These are people who take everything too responsibly and seriously, “perfectionists” who have a strong need to control everything, “to take into consideration all factors”. These individuals have a highly developed imagination and abstract thinking and can easily present “the picture of their death” in all colors, thereby even more intensifying fear.

At consultation, the therapist’s physician evaluates the person’s condition, developmental history, and characteristics of the body and environment. On the basis of this, a conclusion about the specific reasons and mechanisms of development of thanatophobia is made.

How to overcome fear of death

Obsessive fear of death has a morbid origin, so to get rid of it, the help of a psychotherapist or psychiatrist is needed. On your own, you can overcome or reduce this fear with the help of some measures that reduce anxiety:

  • Breathing exercises, autogenic training.
  • Intense physical activity: fast jogging for short distances, squatting exercises and push-ups from the floor (until you feel tired).
  • Switching to another source of anxiety, such as letting a loved one know that “we need your help right away, we’re in big trouble!”
  • Water procedures: a cold shower.

Treatment of compulsive fear of death

Treatment is prescribed by the doctor individually. There are no universal remedies for thanatophobia. Each patient is chosen his own scheme, a combination of medical methods and psychological techniques, aimed at recovery and release from painful anxiety. The following therapies are the most common:

  • Pharmacotherapy. The most quickly and strongly effective method. Drugs from the group of tranquilizers, neuroleptics, antidepressants, neurometabolic therapy are used.
  • Physiotherapy. Electro-sleep is a physical therapy that helps to relieve painful anxiety.
  • Psychotherapy. A large number of psychotherapeutic techniques are effective for treatment of thanatophobia: cognitive psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, hypnosis and trance methods, relaxation training, etc.
  • Biofeedback therapy (biofeedback).
  • Therapeutic massage and physical training.

Other methods: diet therapy, therapeutic fasting, sleep deprivation, water procedures.

In most cases, the obsessive fear of death is completely reversible. Treatment is carried out both at home and in hospital. The average course of active treatment averages about 10 days.