Leicester Mercury

Don’t let death anxiety take over your life

A ‘healthy’ fear of death is normal – but what happens when it tips into full-blown anxiety? LISA SALMON seeks some expert advice


WINSTON CHURCHILL once said: “Any man who says he is not afraid of death is a liar.” But while it’s natural to be afraid of death, particular­ly now with the backdrop of a global pandemic, for some, death anxiety – thanatopho­bia – can be a problem.

“Most people experience death anxiety at some time,” says clinical psychologi­st Dr Anna Janssen ( drannajans­sen.co.uk), who specialise­s in the care of people with cancer and terminal illness.

“Some have a way of dealing with it which causes them less anxiety, perhaps through culture, religion or their own ideas about death.

“There’s nothing unusual about being apprehensi­ve about death, and worrying a bit, but those worries become clinically concerning if the anxiety starts to dictate much of how you live, and is to the detriment of other meaningful things or your wellbeing.”

Grief counsellor and funeral director Lianna Champ ( champfuner­als.com), author of How To Grieve Like A Champ (RedDoor Publishing, £9.99), adds: “The current pandemic has made us think of death – having deaths reported daily in the news can make our anxiety external, giving us a sense of panic.

“Having a fear of death is quite normal and stems from our natural instinct for survival. But what happens when an irrational fear of death begins to seep into our thoughts and takes over our rational thinking? Death anxiety is a very real concern for some, affecting their day-to-day functionin­g, and while we can’t change what is, we can change how we feel about it.”

Here, Dr Janssen and Lianna suggest seven ways to manage death anxiety...


DON’T try to ignore your feelings about death – talk, think and reflect on them in a safe space, maybe even in therapy, suggests Anna.

“You can look at what your thoughts and feelings really are and get some coherence, so you feel less overwhelme­d by how you feel,” she says. “Understand­ing what you’re thinking and feeling is sometimes a direct route to coping.”

Lianna says: “Acknowledg­e the effect anxiety has physically and emotionall­y. Once we acknowledg­e that we may be engaging in habits or thoughts that aren’t good, we can begin to take steps to change them.”

She suggests writing down what you’re feeling, and thinking about events in your past that may be linked to the anxiety. By doing this, you might be able to identify what was emotionall­y unfinished about the linked event, which might help.


LIANNA suggests asking yourself about all the things that make you anxious about death. Is it missing out on being with your loved ones – even though they’ll eventually all

die too? Being in a black nothingnes­s (which you probably won’t be aware of )? Or just the not knowing what happens? “If we understand why we’re feeling the way we do, we can take back control,” she says.


LIANNA advises people who have death anxiety not to read or listen to the news too much.

“Keep in mind that the media can hold a tragic event in the news for ages,” she says.

“Yes, we see disasters, but we can also see many good and great things happening. Everything needs balance.”

Dr Janssen adds: “The fear of death fluctuates and may be triggered by an experience of a difficult death, or things people may see or hear about death that add uncertaint­y, or make the potential of death less deniable.”


VOICING your feelings can help put worries into perspectiv­e, says Lianna, who suggests: “Find someone who won’t try to ‘fix’ you or change how you feel, but can give you the tools to work it out yourself. If you can’t think of someone, reach out to a profession­al.”

Dr Janssen adds: “It can just be about being heard and feeling less stigmatise­d. Very often, we don’t talk about death or how worried we are about it, so sometimes just having a relationsh­ip where someone can bear witness to your feelings about death can be enough – knowing you’re not the only one who feels like this can be helpful.”


“OUR survival instinct is driven by the fear of what might end our lives, so we’ll all have an undercurre­nt of fear of death, and that’s no bad thing because it’s how we survive,” Dr Janssen stresses, while Lianna adds: “A ‘healthy’ fear of death can make us change our beliefs and behaviours for the better. An awareness that we aren’t immortal can make us better people too, as it can make us think about how we’d like to be remembered.”


THROUGH her work, Dr Janssen sees people facing death, or who’ve lost someone to illness, and they readily talk about it. “I also see people who speak about their acceptance of death,” she says. “Some are very much able to accept their life is ending and they feel ready, and that’s often linked to what they think death is and what they think will happen next. “Some are very clear this is not the end of everything, so the meaning attached to death isn’t one of threat. They’re comfortabl­e with it, and think they’re going to a safe place and to meet people that have already passed away. It’s really about the meaning we attach to death.”

Lianna adds: “By really grasping that dying is an inescapabl­e truth, we can live a better life. We really can live each day as if it’s our last.”


IF, after trying to tackle your anxiety, you’re still feeling overwhelme­d and thinking excessivel­y about death, seek profession­al help, advises Lianna.

Dr Janssen suggests: “If you have trauma that reminds you of how unsafe we are in this world, you can come through it with specialist therapy.”

 ??  ?? Occasional­ly thinking about death is normal.... worrying about it all the time can be a problem
Occasional­ly thinking about death is normal.... worrying about it all the time can be a problem
 ??  ?? Experts Dr Anna Janssen and Lianna Champ help people deal with concerns around death
Experts Dr Anna Janssen and Lianna Champ help people deal with concerns around death

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