Thoughts about death can be scary. These thoughts can create a sense of powerlessness, meaninglessness and loneliness in us. It is normal and natural for us to think about death, after all it is a part of life. But such thoughts can create a great sense of fear in many people.
As humans we have an inbuilt survival mechanism in our brains. You could think of this mechanism as a ‘don’t get killed machine’ that is constantly operating to ensure your survival. Naturally with such a machine operating within us we take great precautions to avoid death. But sometimes this machine goes into overdrive and our fears about death do more harm than good. These fears about death and dying can have a substantial impact on our experience of happiness and our ability to fully engage in our lives with a sense of vitality.
Fears of death and dying often underlie mental health conditions such as health anxiety, panic disorder, depression and PTSD to name just a few. Often in order to treat these conditions we need to help our clients to accept death.
So how do we accept death?
To accept death we must have a belief that death is simply a natural part of life and something which is out of our control. And to do this we must find a way to make ourselves feel comfortable with the concept of death and our own mortality.
Therefore the first task one must undertake to accept death is to ask yourself the following questions:
What are my beliefs about death?
How comfortable do I feel with dying?
Unhelpful beliefs about dying (e.g. it is unfair, I should be able to live forever; I will not cope if my partner dies) need to be addressed and challenged. If you are holding onto beliefs like this, they will no doubt interfere with your experience of living.
The most common way that people try to deal with death is to avoid it. But as we know with most psychological conditions, avoidance is the problem not the solution.
Stop Avoiding it.
There is an important statistic to consider regarding death. That’s statistic is 10/10 people will die. Ponder that for a moment. What does that statistic bring up in you? It may tell you a lot about where you are at in accepting the inevitability of death.
If you are struggling with anxiety related to dying the primary goal is to find ways to expose yourself to all things related to death and dying.
Exposure may be achieved in many different ways. For example watching films or reading books that explore death (see these resources). We can explore death by writing our will, planning our funeral or discussing end of life plans with loved ones.
Another interesting way to address anxiety about death is via a website called WeCroak . If you sign up to the website it will send you 5 notifications per day at random times asking you to contemplate death. The premise of regularly contemplating your own mortality is that it helps us accept to let go of things that don’t matter and honour the things that do.
One final task that is often helpful in accepting death is to write one’s own eulogy. In doing so you may reflect on what you want your life to stand for, what matters to you deep in your heart and what you feel will give your life a sense of meaning. Once done, you may reflect on how your life is currently measuring up to this ideal. If it is not quite in line with your eulogy, set about making some adjustments.
To think and talk about death is to fully allow oneself to live. It is worth investing the time and the emotion into this important concept.
Talk about death, it won’t kill you.