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What is Thanatophobia?

Thanatophobia is commonly understood as anxiety surrounding the fear of death, or the fear of the dying process.

While it is common for us to worry about our own mortality or the mortality of our family and friends as they age, these worries can develop into more problematic patterns of thinking. If you are struggling to cope with this sense of worry or panic on your own, it is important to seek help. If your worries stem from a recent diagnosis of ill health or the ill health of a loved one, speaking with a therapist or counsellor could help you to better understand your feelings and help you to overcome them.

It is worth noting that Thanatophobia may not be officially recognised under certain psychiatric diagnosis criteria, with symptoms of the condition instead linked to generalised anxiety disorder.

What are the symptoms of Thanatophobia?

Individuals who experience Thanatophobia may not notice their symptoms until they begin to think about their own death or the death of their loved ones.
Physical symptoms of Thanatophobia can include:

  • Increased anxiety

  • Frequent panic attacks

  • Irregular heartbeats or heart palpitations

  • Sweating

  • Dizziness

  • Stomach pains

  • Nausea

  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures

Emotional symptoms of Thanatophobia can include:

  • Persistent worry

  • Sadness

  • Anger

  • Guilt

  • Agitation

  • Avoidance of loved ones or responsibilities for long periods

What causes Thanatophobia?

A number of factors can lead to the development of a fear of death or the dying process.

Age: Studies have shown that Thanatophobia can peak when an individual reaches their 20's but can fade as they grow older. Ageing Parents: While research suggests that young people more commonly experience Thanatophobia than the elderly, some elderly individuals may fear death if their health begins to fail. Children are also more likely to fear death.

Health Issues: Individuals facing problems with their physical health are likely to experience greater anxiety surrounding death.

Gender: Both men and women can experience Thanatophobia, particularly in their 20s.

How is Thanatophobia diagnosed?

Thanatophobia is not a clinically recognised condition. While there are no tests that can be performed to determine a Thanatophobia diagnosis, a doctor or therapist can gain a greater understanding of your experiences by consulting a list of symptoms. However, the symptoms and issues related to Thanatophobia are common issues that therapists are experienced in working with. An experienced therapist or counsellor like those listed on the Prohealth Therapy platform can help you to manage your symptoms and find your own way forward.

Individuals experiencing Thanatophobia are likely to be diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder. However, the fact that your symptoms and feelings of anxiety are in some way related to fears of death and dying will be noted. Some individuals with Thanatophobia may also experience anxiety relating to other issues.

How is Thanatophobia treated?

Medication can be used to treat Thanatophobia but can only help with some symptoms. For example, antidepressants can be prescribed for depression and anxiety arising from fear of death and dying. However, medication cannot ‘cure’ Thanatophobia.

Your therapist may utilise a number of therapeutic techniques to treat your Thanatophobia. In order to develop a treatment plan that is individual to you and your symptoms, a number of factors may be considered to determine the best approach. Your age, medical history, individual symptoms, severity of symptoms, and personal preferences may all be taken into account. Talking therapy may help ease symptoms of Thanatophobia, helping you share your experiences with a qualified therapist who can then teach you ways to cope with your feelings.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder. This form of talking therapy combines both cognitive and behavioural therapies. Cognitive therapy helps you to understand how our thoughts can affect your feelings and mood, while behavioural therapy is used to identify the links between your behaviours and thoughts.

Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing techniques, can also help to relieve the psychical symptoms of Thanatophobia.

How to find a therapist for Thanatophobia

A qualified, professional therapist will work with you to examine your thoughts and behaviours and improve how you feel. You will build a relationship based on trust, giving you the confidence to share your feelings and emotions with them. Your counsellor will listen to all that you have to share with empathy and openness.

They will also work with you to decide the pace of your treatment and how many sessions of therapy you might need. Therapists will not judge you, nor force you into following a particular course of action.

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