Today’s topic is really interesting. It’s something not a lot of people talk about – but I want to bring it up anyway. It’s our fear of death.
Like most people, I don’t like to think about my own mortality. I don’t want to see myself lying in a hospital bed. Gasping for air. Taking my final breath.
But we all know that life is endless. We know that our turn to die will come – in 10, 20, 50, or 100 years. And yet, we act like we’ll live forever. We ignore our biggest dreams. We live the life that others want for us. And on our death bed, we regret not doing the things we truly cared about.
We take the sick and dying to hospitals and care-homes, instead of spending the last days with our loved ones. We ask priests to speak at the funeral service and we bury corpses out of sight.We keep quiet about our own mortality and pretend as though the opposite of life does not exist. The closest we come to thinking about death is when we read fictional murder mysteries or watch brutal thrillers online.
But I want to break the silence. I want to challenge you to think critically about your own mortality. I want to help you confront your fear of death.
What do you think about death?
It might be difficult, but take a moment to reflect on the stories you tell yourself about death and dying.
- Do you think death is something to be feared? Or is it a pleasant experience?
- What will happen to you after you die?
- And how would you like your death to look like?
You might not have all the answers straight away. But just being aware of your thoughts can help you uncover your fears. And don’t beat yourself up about them – your thoughts and feelings might be based on past experiences with death or how you were raised. For example, if you grew up in a family where no one talked about death, you might feel like it is a mysterious experience. Or if you saw a close friend die after struggling with cancer and chemotherapy for years, you think of death as the sad end of a long period of suffering.
No need to condemn this. Just sit with your thoughts – even if they’re uncomfortable. And see if any of these beliefs or fears resonate with you:
- I don’t want to die alone
- What if I fall asleep and never wake up?
- I’m scared I’ll die when giving birth and leave my baby and partner alone
- There’s no way I could cope if one of my parents/friends became terminally ill
- It’s scary to think that from one second to the next my life could just be over
- I’m worried I’ll die during surgery.
- Death is painful – and I don’t want to suffer.
- I wonder what it will feel like when I die.
- I am worried about what happens to me after I die.
- I’m scared I’ll feel out of control.
- I don’t want to look back on life and regret that I didn’t live it to its fullest.
- I’m scared I’ll die of …. (a disease of your choice)
- I’m scared I’ll die in an accident.
- I’m scared I’ll be buried alive – because people think I’m already dead when I’m not.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Death
Now that you are more familiar with your beliefs and emotions surrounding death, you can start to change them. And as you do, your anxiety will disappear. Here are a few tips to help you overcome your fear of death:
Tip 1: Reframe your thoughts about death
If you think that death is painful, spooky and scary, it might be time to challenge your beliefs and reframe your thoughts.
Even if this were to be true (because who would know, apart from the dead?), you are much better off thinking of death as a neutral or pleasant experience. I mean, at least it saves a lifetime of worrying. And no more anxious thoughts.
That’s why I recommend radically shifting your perspective to focus on the positive aspects of death. For example, your death allows you to leave tough life experiences behind, and it can even be a relief if you’ve been suffering or been in pain for a long time.
Another way to look at it is to be grateful that you get the chance to face your fear of death in the coming years or decades. Surely, by facing your fear sometime down the line, you will have a chance to overcome it.
Just challenge whatever negative beliefs you have by also looking at the positives. Here are some examples of this reframing in action:
BEFORE: I’m worried about what happens to me after I die.
AFTER: I wonder what will happen to me after I die. What will my world look like … and will I still be able to feel and see things?
BEFORE: I’m scared what it feels like to die.
AFTER: I’m curious what it will be like to die, and I look forward to the experience when the time is right.
Now it’s your turn! Take one of your beliefs about death and look at it from another angle. Let me know your before and after in the comments section.
Tip 2: Practice letting go
One of the reasons why we fear is death is because we have a hard time letting go. I mean it’s only natural. We want to be in control of our life – and death is the one experience that we have no control over.
We know we can’t escape death – it will come when the time is right, just the way it has with the millions of people who have died before us. But we don’t know when, how and where we’ll die. We don’t know what it will feel like.
And that’s what makes it seem so scary.
However, we can soothe our fear of the unknown by making death seem more familiar. We can start to think about how we would like to spend the last days of our life. We can think about our own funeral and how we would like to be remembered.
So, take a moment to reflect:
- What do you want to do right before you die?
- And what would you want your death to be like?
- Would you like it to be almost instantaneous? While you sleep?
- Or would you want it to take weeks or months so you can say goodbye to your loved ones?
Thinking about your own death can take away some of the fear – especially if you’ve avoided the topic before.
Also, keep in mind that death is your chance to let go of your life on Earth, of all the pain and suffering you may have experienced over the years. It allows you to overcome the limitations of your body and open up to whatever new experience awaits you.
Instead of clinging to your fear, try to approach the topic of death with a sense of curiosity and feel grateful for the fact that even if you don’t know what it’s like to die – you will have the opportunity to satiate that curiosity when the time is right.
But right now, you can practice the art of letting go by releasing fears and negative emotions. Because your life is like a bookshelf: if you have too many novels, you don’t have space to welcome new books into your home.
And by transforming pent-up emotions and letting go of the past, you can prepare to leave your friends, property and experiences behind upon your death bed. Only then, will you be ready to overcome the limitations of your body and open up to new experiences.
Because as the stoic and philosopher Seneca said:
“It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and – what will perhaps make you wonder more – it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.”– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Tip 3: Confront your fears
I lived next to a cemetery as a kid and many of my young friends thought graveyards were spooky – especially in the dark.
To me, living next to one was the most normal thing in the world. I was used to watching the flickering candles and black tombstones from my bedroom window every night.
But my friends’ reactions fascinated me. Their view of death was shaped not so much by experiences, but by the imagery of horror movies and children’s books. They thought graveyards were haunted and that ghosts might surface anytime.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, when I took my friends to the nearby graveyard in the dark, they were terrified. But as I showed them around, their fears gradually disappeared.
And just like my friends, you can alleviate your fear of death through exposure.
Obviously, you can’t experience death until you die, but you can use rituals or stories to help you feel more comfortable around your eventual demise.
Take the chance: visit a graveyard or mausoleum. Watch videos of people in old age as they look back on their lives. Read books about how different cultures approach death (did you know death is celebrated in Mexico?) Do whatever it takes to feel better and relieve your fears of the big unknown.
Bonus tip: Use your fear to live without regrets
While your fear of death may never go away completely (and this is perfectly natural), you can still use it to your advantage.
While it might seem counterintuitive, you can use your fear to live a more fulfilled life. Your fear of death can motivate you to overcome limiting beliefs. And it can make your other fears – for example, of rejection or failure – seem small.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to overcome these fears and align your life with your number 1 priorities and goals:
- If you knew you only had 1 year left to live, what would you change in your life right now?
- If you continued down your current path in life, what would you regret in two to five years? What can you do differently to reduce your regrets?
Based on your responses, you can then find new ways to make your dreams come true. For example, if you’d always dreamt of starting your own ed-tech business, you could choose to attend at least 1 educational conference a month to network with people in the industry. Or if you wanted to lose 3kg in the next six months, you could start exercising three times a week for 30 minutes.
You can start small, but if you take action now and overcome your fear of starting out, the results will accumulate over time. And paradoxically, as you become more ‘successful’ and fulfilled, your fear of dying also disappears. This is because you are living the life you truly want, rather than living your life to meet others’ expectations.