Death anxiety can be a really common fear for those of us who struggle with anxiety, and even those who don't! As you probably know, anxiety is all about wanting control. And, of course, there's very little control when it comes to death. This feeling of having no control can be especially hard when you're navigating an anxiety disorder. So today, I want to offer you some hope and helpful tips!
For some background, I've struggled with death anxiety since I was a child. I grew up in the Pentecostal religion, which placed a big emphasis on things like heaven, hell, and your relationship with God. And throughout my childhood, this religion occupied so many facets of my life. Whether it was attending church, family gatherings, or daily life, I was completely surrounded by it. And ultimately, this wasn't good for me because it led me to fear things like death, or going to hell. I remember being afraid to fall asleep because I didn't want to die (and I also worried about my family members dying). I felt so alone in this fear, and I struggled for so long.
Maybe your experience with death anxiety isn’t due to religion. It might simply be due to the loss of a loved one, personal illness, trauma, or even just your relationship with anxiety. No matter the cause, there’s a difficult truth I want to share with you before we get started. One of the truths that set me free, actually! So here it is…Unfortunately, we can’t live forever. Death is inevitable. And the more we fight it, the more scared we will feel. But when we learn to accept death, we can live a life filled with lots more peace. It’s not easy, but you can learn to change your relationship with death!
Let’s take some time to go over the things that helped me heal from death anxiety.
Healing My Religious Trauma
Without going into a ton of detail here, my experience with religion as a child was traumatic. In part, it caused me to live in a state of fear, and constantly worry about so many things. Things like, if I was “good” enough for heaven, going to hell, and the death of me or my family. And honestly, creating new beliefs helped to set me free. As I got older, I started to build my own beliefs. It was freeing to realize that I can believe what I want, and that a healthier experience with spirituality was possible.
Talking About Death More Often
You might be thinking… “Shannon, the last thing I want to do is talk about death!”. And I hear you! And I can honestly say that I’ve been there. But here’s the thing: it’s not healthy (or productive) to walk through life pretending like death won’t happen. And when we embrace death as a part of a meaningful life, it loses the power (and anxiety!) it has over us. Let me be clear, I’m not saying you need to talk about death all the time! But you certainly don’t have to fight the topic out of your life.
Leaning Into the Uncertainty
Back when I was struggling, I hated the word “uncertainty”! And the thought of embracing it? Absolutely not. But today, I embrace all of the uncertainties of life. It takes time and practice, but it’s something you can do, too! If you’re just starting on your journey of embracing uncertainty, this is what I want you to do: start by acknowledging the presence of uncertainty. Allow the uncertainty to be there without solving it. This is such a valuable practice because it’s unfair to ask ourselves to have everything figured out. And when it comes to death anxiety, acknowledging the uncertainty of it all can go a long way towards quieting your fears.
I Stopped Fueling the Death Anxiety
When I stopped fueling my death anxiety, it no longer had anything to grab onto. And with time and healthy action, my fears eventually subsided. But you might be wondering what exactly I mean when I say that I “stopped fueling” death anxiety. So here are a few of the unhelpful behaviors that I slowly let go of in order to heal my relationship with death:
No more Googling symptoms
No more checking my pulse
Resisting the need to know
Dropping the things I can’t control
When I dropped these unhelpful behaviors, resisted the “knowing”, and took healthy action, I eventually overcame my death anxiety. And the greatest gift of recovering is that I’m able to be so much more present in life. Not only for myself… but for my family and friends. I want you to know that I’m not a special case and that you’re no different from me. With time and healthy action, you can overcome this too, my friend!
Don't forget to listen to this week's episode for all of the goodness!