The extreme and often irrational thought or fear of death leads to the phobia known as Thanatophobia. Very severe cases of thanatophobia often negatively impact the day to day functioning of the individual suffering from this condition. Often s/he refuses to leave the home owing to this fear. The talk or thought of death (or what lies after death) can trigger panic attacks in the patients. Thanatophobia is also known by various other names such as:
- Fear of entombment or the fear of being buried
- Dying phobia
- Fear of cremation
- Fear of the unknown
Causes of the fear of death phobia
As is the case with several other kinds of fears and phobias, the fear of death also results from external events (traumatic past) or internalization/predisposition of extreme concepts about death. As children, we learn that death is inevitable and non-predictable. But this knowledge can paralyze or overwhelm the person coping from Thanatophobia.
Symptoms of Thanatophobia
The mere mention of death or images or thoughts thereof can trigger a crippling anxiety in the patient. Following emotional, mental and physical symptoms are experienced by thanatophobic patients:
- Physical Symptoms: Dizziness, dry mouth, sweating, palpitations, nausea, stomach pain, trembling, sensation of choking, chest pain or discomfort, hot or cold flashes, numbness and tingling sensations.
- Mental Symptoms: Loss of control- feeling of going crazy with automatic or uncontrollable reactions, repetition of gory thoughts, inability to distinguish between reality and unreality.
- Emotional symptoms: Desire to flee and escape from current situation, extreme avoidance, persistent worry and terrifying or overwhelming thoughts. Additionally, anger, sadness and guilt may also be present.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Thanatophobia
Before considering the diagnosis of the fear of death, it is important to consider a few conditions that are mistaken for Thanatophobia. Depression, ADHD and bipolar disorders are often linked to this type of phobia. In other cases, undiagnosed conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, concentration disorders, strokes, schizophrenia, and epilepsy etc may actually be related to Thanatophobia.
Diagnosis of thanatophobia is best done by the patient himself. If the extreme thoughts of the fear of death are affecting his/her life so much so that one is unable to leave the home or compromising upon one’s daily functioning then s/he must discuss this with a medical doctor. After ruling out any physical conditions, the doctor might refer the patient to a mental health professional to further evaluate the condition.
Many kinds of treatments and therapies are available today to help individuals cope with Thanatophobia.
- Anti anxiety medicines (as yet there are no scientific studies that have proven the efficiency of treating the fear of death phobia). Anxiety medications can also have side effects.
- Religious counseling
- Talk therapy
- Neuro linguistic programming
- Cognitive Behavior therapy and Behavior therapy
- Relaxation techniques like imagery, meditation, controlled breathing and positive reaffirmations/visualizations
- Exposure therapy or regression therapy wherein the patient is made to relive certain events, analyze them and interpret them correctly. This helps one resolve issues surrounding the event.
- Self help techniques
- Group therapies with other patients suffering from Thanatophobia
The goal of each of these therapies is to help the patient pinpoint the exact inciting factor of the fear of death. The therapists help the patient understand why the fear is unfounded and systematically and gradually help the patient cope with these thoughts. This, in turn, helps the patient control his/her physical and mental responses to the fear of death.
Thantophobia or Thanatophobia is a complex phobia which, if left untreated, can touch every aspect of the individual’s life. However, one must not lose hope but opt for treatments and therapies that can help him/her cope with it. Family and friends can also play a very important role in helping the individual deal with one’s fear of death.