I have a fear of death or death anxiety - what should I do?
The best place to start facing down your fear of death is to define what it is about death that scares you. Here is an Ask a Mortician episode I did about all the reasons us humans have trouble coming to terms with death– Why Are You Afraid of Death?
Once you know why you’re afraid, there are exercises you can do to dive into the fear. One of my favorites is meditating on what will become of your dead body (it can be great– promise!). Here is another episode I made addressing how to do just that– Confronting Your Death.
If you want to face death like an Order of the Good Death member, you can read our manifesto on the topic, On the Fear of Death.
“This pervasive fear and disdain of death, though amplified in Western cultures, is primal and archetypal.” An excellent breakdown on death anxiety from Psychology Today.
Won't thinking about death be depressing?
We don’t think so! There can be difficult aspects of course– no one said being mortal was easy. But, on balance, repression and denial of our fears and emotions is much worse.
But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times says– To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death. Or read about the 9 Reasons Why People Who Constantly Think About Death Are More Alive.
Thinking of death isn’t just about self fulfillment or happiness. Our future may depend on it. Sheldon Solomon says in The Atlantic that “If you look at the problems that currently befall humanity—we can’t get along with each other, we’re pissing on the environment, [there’s] rampant economic instability by virtue of mindless conspicuous consumption—they’re all malignant manifestations of death anxiety running amok.”
Finally, you might want to read about the members of the Death Positive Movement, and why we’ve made a life out of thinking about death.
Are there other ways our fear of death affects our behavior?
Oh you betcha.
Our favorite thinker in this area is Ernest Becker.
Becker was “an American cultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary thinker and writer. He wrote several books on human motivation and behavior, most notably the 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Denial of Death. In it, he argues that “the basic motivation for human behavior is our biological need to control our basic anxiety, to deny the terror of death.” (Keen 1973). Becker suggested that a significant function of culture is to provide successful ways to engage in death denial.”
Becker didn’t just influence the Death Positive movement. He also influenced a group of psychologists who developed Terror Management Theory (TMT).
“The theory was inspired by the writings of Becker, and was initiated by two relatively simple questions: Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves?; and Why do people have so much trouble getting along with those different from themselves?”
More explanation on How the Unrelenting Fear of Death Shapes Our Behavior.
It is likely that the fear of death has influenced major events in world history. I break down how Donald Trump won the US Presidential election by employing death and death imagery in the video– Trump and the Fear of Death.