8 Ways To Cope With Death Anxiety

Some suggestions to buffer death anxiety (Death Anxiety)

Table of Contents
1. Creating meaning
2. A change in priorities
3. Authentic presence
4. Productivity
5. Acceptance
6. A cognitive-behavioural approach
7. Exposure
8. You are important to others

Death Anxiety – Facing the reality of death as we age is one of the challenges we all face. Nowadays, avoiding the reality of death, the “avoidance attitude”, is the most popular way of coping. 

However, we should be aware that some of the usual ways of coping can create existential anxiety and rob us of our quality of life.

In the face of mortality, it is important to have a “buffer system” to maintain our psychological serenity and cope with death anxiety (Routledge & Vess, 2019; Juhl, 2019).

Here are some suggestions to buffer death anxiety:

1. Creating meaning

According to Terror/Fear Management Theory (TMT), having a sense that one’s own life has meaning, or that life, in general, has meaning, enables the individual to live with an awareness of death and without fear. When people do something important that fulfils their soul, they have no time to worry about death. Therefore, it is important to clarify one’s deepest personal values and to serve them in one’s life. Research suggests that any source of feeling meaningful (such as work, relationships, science and faith) should serve an important personal value.

2. A change in priorities

Death anxiety motivates us to be creative. We accomplish more when time is limited. Mortality inspires us to live interesting and meaningful lives. It causes us to choose our priorities and live more effective lives. If we were immortal, we could rightly postpone our every action forever. It wouldn’t matter whether we do something now or tomorrow.

3. Authentic presence

Authenticity is the feeling that one is “one’s own”. And it includes one’s own values, preferences, goals, decisions and actions. Awareness of death also triggers the desire to focus on what is truly important to oneself. Pursuing inner goals is a solid buffer against death anxiety.

4. Productivity

A form of symbolic immortality, the term generativity can be seen as an expression of going beyond our own existence to leave behind a positive legacy. Productivity can transform the fear of death into a feeling of deep contentment.

5. Acceptance

As humans, we have a biased view of life and death. We see death as something that separates us from life (i.e. all our material and spiritual possessions). Some ancient teachings talk about how we suffer because we are attached to temporary/temporal things in an ever-changing life. The way to put an end to our suffering is actually to cut our attachment to mortal/temporary things. For example, wealth, power, etc. That way, we no longer fear death because we have nothing to lose.

6. A cognitive-behavioural approach

Our emotional lives are shaped by our beliefs and values. The observer influences the “observed reality”. By developing the capacity to choose how we interpret life and death, we can free ourselves from negative emotions. Stoic teachings suggest that we focus on what we can control and adopt an attitude of not worrying about what we cannot control. Knowing that you are doing the best you can in the circumstances leads to a cool and calm acceptance of everything (life and death).

7. Exposure

The most powerful way to deal with the fear of death is to face it rather than avoid it. 

Research on anxiety reduction shows that exposure to feared situations is one of the fastest and most effective solutions. 

In the context of death anxiety, this involves practising exposure to death-related topics. 

For example, regularly reading obituaries in the newspaper, reading literary accounts of death and grief, writing a will, planning funeral arrangements, imagining one’s own death, writing eulogies about how one would like to be remembered after one’s death, etc. 

These exercises can be very helpful in reducing death anxiety.

Yalom (2008) states that to face one’s own death fully consciously (both in thoughts and feelings) is to overcome death anxiety.

8. You are important to others

The human need for the material world is universal. The feeling of being needed and important by others enhances meaning in our lives. 

Moreover, how an individual’s interpersonal relationships reflect their capacity to adapt to life and their ability to increase their self-worth.

The deep and close bonds you form with your loved ones, and the level of fulfilment you feel in your relationships, play an important role in the level of your death anxiety. 

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