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What is The Fear Of Dying?

“Fear Does Not Stop Death, It Stops Life.” – Vi Keeland

As we go through life it is natural to begin worrying about our mortality

Fear is a friend more than a foe. Understanding fear and the fear of dying is important if we want to overcome our dread and continue living. This requires courage and as Franklin D Roosevelt aptly stated, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

The key overcoming fear is acceptance, and then looking beyond it. People who say they do not fear death either do not understand it or are simply lying. Even from a Christian perspective, the Lord felt fear in the garden of Gethsemane. He had to work around it and keep what was important in perspective.

Fear and the fear of dying will test us to see what we are made of. YOU may be surprised to find out that fear can be overcome and that you have far more courage than you ever thought possible. It requires a different set of spectacles to see the bigger picture!

There are three aspects to fear of dying that are worth discussing, however, these cannot be understood without a clear definition of fear.

What is Fear?

As a part of the human condition, fear can be defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.” It is directed towards a threat- something that is real. It is an unpleasant feeling; thus no one enjoys being afraid.

Intense fear is a powerful emotion that can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, and tremors. These are all in response to the release of our “fright and flight” hormone, adrenaline. This strong physical response to fear has sometimes saved lives in seemingly miraculous events. In his article, Jeff Wise comments on this phenomenon and how the body prepares for action in response to acute stress.

Fear makes the impossible a bit more possible and it may be argued that manageable fear is possibly good for us. But fear can also be debilitating and immobilise people.

Fearing the unknown needs to be overcome, and it should not be avoided. In the article by Noam Shpancer, he advises that “the only way out is through”. The fear of death can be overcome by walking through this fear.

The fear of death can be broken down into three aspects, these are:

• a fear of death as a theoretical event,
• Abnormal fear of death as death anxiety
• Fear of death which we all have and is normal.

Getting through this is better than avoiding it because as we all know we cannot avoid death or the inevitable threat of death.

defining death and dying women speaking

The Fear Of Dying


The Fear of Theoretical Death

Fear is a response to a perceived threat, thus, it is not possible to be afraid of something that does not really exist. The term theoretical is defined as elements that are based on theory rather than experience or practice. Things that are theoretical do not pose a real threat, so it is easy to be brave. This means that we can say “I am not afraid of…” combined with anything as long as it is not real, at the moment.

For example, we may say that we are not afraid of lions, because there are none in the room with us. However, this would change if you were in an enclosure with a hungry lion. The same applies to any potential threat in the comfort of our living room such as bears, fire, heights or snow. It is only when these things become real and pose a threat that we will become afraid.

One gets to say “I am not afraid of dying” when death is a far and improbable event, but it becomes more real the closer we become. Why be afraid of death when it is not real yet?


The Fear of Dying and Death Anxiety

Anxiety is the feeling unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Unlike fear that is directed to a real threat, anxiety is much worse as it is related to an imagined threat. Our imaginations can be powerful and unkind. Continuously thinking about the same sad or dark thoughts can be damaging to our mental health. This intense fear is often the cause of depressive disorders as well as anxiety disorders.

The best way to illustrate death anxiety is to use the example of a coffin. A coffin is a box of wood, with a lid. It has a useful function of helping in the transportation of a deceased person as opposed to placing an unsecured body on the back of a utility vehicle.
A coffin is not dangerous; it cannot hurt you and is perfectly safe to touch as with any other piece of wood or box. Realistically, a coffin should be completely safe and non-threatening.

However, when we add to this the power of imagination thoughts go awry. Constant thought about this piece of wood creates far more fear than necessary. We may imagine ourselves or someone we love in the coffin. Additionally, we may imagine the coffin filled with dirt and worms while we are buried alive or being trapped and heading for cremation.

All of these thoughts are not real and have not happened, yet they are easily imagined. If these cause an unpleasant emotional experience, then you may have coffin anxiety.

We all have anxiety in some way or another because we are creative beings with a fantastic imagination that sometimes turns against us. Feeling anxious is beneficial as it motivates and enables us to plan towards overcoming future potential threats.

However, if our imaginations run away from us, it can lead to debilitating anxiety and limits us from doing anything. Anyone with a phobia knows how real our imagination can become. If your fear of death prevents you from living life, it is important to get professional help. Life is for enjoying until it inevitably comes to an end.

Death anxiety should not limit us from the pleasure of living. Nevertheless, we have to address the reality of death and find a way to overcome our fear of death.

what is palliative care chess
fear of dying mountain

The Fear Of Death

The Fear of Dying in The Face of Death

A fear of dying indicates that we are aware of our physical reality and the implications that come with death. When living with a terminal illness and life is ending, there are many things we worry about when we contemplate our own death—with the foremost often being the concern and fear about how our surviving loved ones will cope without us.

Whether it is on our own or with the help of a mental health professional, summoning the courage to overcome our fear of dying may be one of the most challenging things we ever do, but it is one of the best things too. Overcoming fear frees up space in our minds and hearts with peace, courage and the understanding that death occurs every day.

Life is cyclical. As with childbirth that has a beginning and an end, dying too has a beginning and an end. When life is ending, and living becomes more difficult, there is specialised medical care to provide pain and symptom relief. Palliative Care is a dedicated medical speciality aimed at managing and minimising suffering the end of life.

We cannot avoid death. To fear death is normal and “the only way out is through”. There is a time that comes when we need to make peace and surrender to this final part of life. We may be surrounded by loved ones, but we all die alone, there is no one on this journey with us when life ends.

For those with faith and religious beliefs, there is a promise of God walking this journey with us, relieving our fears. We are reminded that He is always with us, thus bringing comfort in the final hour of life.

We All Have a Fear Of Dying

The fear of dying is something we all have in common, yet makes us feel alone. Fear comes in many forms. Some may be afraid of bodies, graves, funeral parlours, where others are afraid of what comes after death and what will happen to their loved ones. No matter the fear felt, it is important to understand and come to terms with this fear.

Many, people are afraid of dying. Some people fear being dead, while others are afraid of the actual act of dying. It is normal to fear death. There are many things at stake when life is ending, and we want to shine a light on this. As a society, we are keen to avoid thinking about the end of life that we forget to live. Although there is no clear-cut way of dealing with the thought of mortality, we must do it if we are to lead productive lives.

Death attitudes refer to the feelings we have towards death, as well as our sentiments in confronting the phenomenon. At Dying to understand we are trying to make life and death matters easier. We would love to have feedback and know what you fear about death, how you manage your fear of death and if possible let us know how we can help. Please contact us at

Read More Here

Surviving Death | Defining Death | The Dying Process | I’m Dying and I’m Scared

More Information and Resources

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Our Resources

Don’t let dying be a plane crash disaster. Talking about dying has never killed anyone! If you or someone you know has an incurable illness, it is recommended to have discussions about the fear of dying early.

Looking for more information on the fear of dying? Stickman is an everyday guy who is here to help confront the issues of death and dying.

Dying To Understand is a not-for-profit Charity. Click Below for our Green Page Directory for more Death and Dying Resources.

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When it comes to dying, we can never be too prepared. Death has a way of being permanent and anything left undone remains undone. There is a lot to do, but don’t get overwhelmed. Make a list of things that need to be done or organised, and use our tool to help make sure you’ve got it all covered.

Finances of dying mountain climbing


When it comes to death and dying, expressing your views via legally supported documentation is essential. Usually, these legal documents take the form of testaments and wills, a power of attorney, estate planning and other matters your lawyer may consider. Whatever you do, try to avoid doing it yourself as it won’t survive if the vultures come, as they do, after death. Money spent on good legal documents and advice turns out to be cheap in comparison to drawn-out court cases when someone contests a will.

Financial planning for death hand of coins


Stay in control even when you are not. When your health is fading, and death is nearer, medical care will undoubtedly increase and your wishes associated with this care are important.

Important things to consider to support the dying process are advanced directives, resuscitation instructions and, most importantly, exploring the benefits of palliative care. It’s important, for living and for dying, to be informed.

how to cope with bereavement - wheelchair on pavement

Estate Planning & Financial Matters

Even though you cannot take it with you when you die, you do want to ensure that your assets are protected. Seeking financial advice about estate planning before dying is essential. Why pay unnecessary tax and fees if you can avoid it. Seeking professional help to ensure your estate and other assets are safe and directed where you want, is of utmost importance for both you and your family or friends.

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Funerals and Cremations

After death comes the funeral or the farewell. Most people think of funerals or cremations negatively. They are not bad, they are events that play an essential function in society and are an important part in the dying process in that they honour the life lived, deal with grief and, most importantly, dispose of the deceased body. 

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Man giving a helping hand

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