Death Anxiety In 20s: Why You Shouldn’t Fear Death, And How To Cure Thanatophobia.12 min read

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In my mid-twenties, from 2019 to 2020, I struggled with the fear of death (also known as thanatophobia). 

The fear was so bad that it led to nightmares, insomnia, heart palpitation, tinnitus (a constant buzzing noise in both ears) and other bodily discomfort, which made me more reticent and isolated.

Thankfully I found a way to overcome it, and once I did, my life was changed like a dark room when you open the windows.

I hope what I write here helps at least one person among the millions that face this challenge. I hope this helps you. 

What Is Death Anxiety?

Death anxiety encompasses a profound fear of death and intense distress when contemplating one’s own mortality or the potential loss of others. It’s not just a fleeting worry, but a persistent and often intense apprehension that can significantly negatively impact different aspects of your life.

It can also lead to other fears like necrophobia (fear of dead bodies). I’ve personally avoided looking at coffins many times due to this fear, like during my grandmother’s funeral. 

Is Death Anxiety In 20s Normal? 

The fear of death – aka Thanatophobia – in your 20s is normal (and it quickly peaks and declines during the same age bracket). Sometimes it’s triggered by other mental health challenges. 

Death is unsettling for many. Our society largely avoids discussing it openly. It tends to be kept quiet at home, school, work, and most places, except, of course, in places like the mortuary.

Insist to talk about it and you may come off as either morbid or a pessimist. So there’s often a sort of shame and isolation that comes with the fear of death.

However, it’s even healthy to think about your death from time to time; it’s only a problem when it gets excessive – i.e. when it starts adversely affecting your ability to carry out your daily activities. 

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Denial of Death: How the fear of death drives our behaviour.

To cope with this fear – the terror that comes from realizing “everybody dies, and you can’t tell when it will be yours” – most people simply rely on DENIAL – avoiding and dismissing the thought for as long as possible. And, this fear and denial of death leads to some rather bizarre behaviours such as

  • seeking extreme and stimulating actions which could involve excessive quest for pleasure, hysterical celebrations, violations of rules, unrestrained aggression towards others (people engaging in wars, conflicts, debates, in the name of God or ideologies that promise an eternal life) and so on. 
  • Or, taking on ambitious projects like life extension and cryonic (the act of freezing the dead at a certain temperature in the hope that future science will revive them) – Anything to mock death, to trample it underfoot, to overcome the fear of dying, right? 

If you’re tired of denying and running away from your fear, you can start by understanding what death feels like and why you are scared about dying in the first place. 

What does death feel like? 

For some, the journey toward death can be peaceful, like walking through a lush garden, lit by the moonlight, with moments of consciousness slipping in and out, like when you’re about to sleep. Breathing becomes softer, and the body gradually relaxes to the point it simply “lets go” of life.

On the flip side, for others, it could be more chaotic and painful. If they endure chronic sickness like cancer or a traumatic accident, the experience of death can be excruciating and restless, with terror gripping their heart as their torment yanks their soul away.  

Death is universal. 

It is the polar opposite of life.  

At some point, everyone gets to the other side. 

And what happens there is a mystery. 

However, each person’s death is personal, just as their life is. 

5 Reasons You Are Afraid Of Death (At Such A Young Age)

You may ask, “Why am I so afraid of death lately?”. The answer could be: 

You are afraid of the unknown

Since what happens on the other side is a mystery and humans are curious species it makes it impossible not to be extremely concerned about what happens after you die. This has to do with the fear of the afterlife

For example, you are afraid of what will be of you, and your loved ones –  your family, friends, or partner when your time is up. 

You may also be afraid of the process of dying – will it be swift like a bullet straight to your head or painful like going for chemotherapy?

Fear of Unfulfilled Dream 

Unlike, Older folks who are likely to accept death because they have lived with more experience,  those in their 20s may fear unfulfilled dreams like college, a career, and a happy life before their time suddenly runs out.

Near-death experience

Surviving a close call with death can go either way – it’s like a coin flip. If it leaves you shaking in your boots, afraid of the Grim Reaper’s scythe, that’s the downside. It leads you down the dark portal of death anxiety.

Your religious beliefs

Religious beliefs are not lightweight either. They’re like emotion influencers, capable of steering your feelings in different directions, especially when it comes to thinking about kicking the bucket. Take heaven and hell, for instance – the fear of landing in the lake of fire can put you on the edge and extreme fear of death.

Your health condition

With good health, the end of life might feel like a big accomplishment, but when you’re struggling, negatively stressed, and sick, you tend to fear that your death is near. 

Your life experiences

Certain experiences, whether environmental or cultural, can contribute to extreme fear of death. For instance, if your parents are overly anxious or either too protective or not protective enough, they might instill a constant sense of danger.

Negative discussions about death by loved ones or exposure to death at a young age, through sudden loss, traumatic experiences, or serious childhood harm or illness, can also fuel this fear.

In my case, what lit my fear of death was when I was a teenager. My uncle, my neighbourhood friend, and some people I knew were murdered by the terrorist group (Boko Haram). 

A certain degree of fear is important (for survival) and at the core of our nature. However, excessive fear limits the quality of our lives. When these thoughts and desires are unbalanced they could do so much more harm than good.

Effects Of Death Anxiety

Thanatophobia leads to several dysfunctional behaviors, and habits, as well as health conditions: 

  1. You keep having disturbing mental images about death or dying popping into your mind
  1. Thoughts about death interfering with relationships, work, or enjoyment of life, then go on to trigger or feed loneliness, anger, sadness, and even delirium.
  1. You worry too much which drives you away from places that remind you of death (like funeral homes, and clinics), and also make you avoid anything that seems risky (like mountain hiking, long road trips, speed, height, etc.).
  1. You feel compelled to do things to reduce the risk of dying excessively, like avoiding long road trips or flying on aeroplanes. Or looking for information or seeking reassurance about health or what happens after death such as anti-ageing drugs or ideas of cryonic. 
  1. When death anxiety is left unchecked it could lead to other mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Paranoia, and Panic attacks. Man! That’s quite a lot. 

How Do I Stop Overthinking About Death

To boost your personal growth and development, get things done, live a healthier lifestyle, and enjoy the good things life offers you and I must be free of death anxiety. And we can do this by…

Let go of excessive expectation

Excessive expectations and thoughts are handicapping your life. For real, look at it, you are still here, alive! – It’s all in your head. You are mainly afraid of the thought and not death itself. So instead of struggling with your thoughts of death, accept your fate as a human and utilize the subtle strength that comes from knowing that someday the lights will go out to do all you dream of, and enjoy each moment of life.

Seek spiritual or philosophical enlightenment

Spiritual or Philosophical truth can change your perception of death. They both have a great impact on our feelings towards death. Though beliefs that suggest that our mistakes or missteps in life would lead to eternal torment in an afterlife may be counterproductive.

For instance, the fear of death shrank when I started meditation, reading philosophical books, particularly stoic philosophy and writing about death anxiety. 

Make an effort to Meditate  

When your perception of time feels so fast; meditate

Meditation is how you slow time down – how you focus on the present, on things that make life endurable, such as family, friendship, work, etc  

Meditate to clear your mind, calm your emotions and channel your energy to living a fulfilled life rather than a fearful one. 

Participate in humanitarian activities

Extending a hand of support or help to others and younger generations may not take away this fear completely but it gives satisfaction and peace knowing that your contributions are making life easier for another (which fills your mind with a sense of purpose).

Make meaningful relationship 

Humans desire companionship. Being married or in a committed relationship brings significant comfort, because it adds more meaning to life and better mental health or the perception that the Grim Reaper is farther away.

Take up a strong belief system

Our beliefs are like the bedtime stories we were told. 

They aren’t always right or wrong, real or fiction, but they strongly affect how we feel and act. 

People who practice Zen may feel more at ease since it’s about focusing on the present. On the other hand, those with strong religious beliefs find comfort in the idea of an afterlife and a meaningful existence.

No matter where you stand on this, find solace in your belief and overcome your fear of death.

Write down your fear

Effective writing can help you find solutions to your problems because it brings clarity to your mind. 

In my case, it was when I wrote the article about my experience with death anxiety, that I discovered why I had the fear and ways to overcome it. 

You too can do this by journaling your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  This will help you make sense of things. The more clarity you gain, the sharper you spot the fear and eliminate the threat. 

Try Out Recreational Activities

Recreational activities like taking a walk in the park, reconnecting with nature and serenity calm the mind. The aim is to focus more on the present, on the things we can see and touch.

Adopt good health habits 

A May 9, 2023, BigThink article, suggested rather than fixating on extending lifespan, it’s crucial to focus on health span — i.e. living in good health. 

Lifespan is how long you live.

Healthspan is how long you live in good health. 

A good health span reduces death anxiety and facilitates a good death. 

Elements of a good death include retaining control, being pain-free, choosing the place of death, and avoiding pointless life prolongation out of fear of death.  

To achieve this, adopt habits such as eating well, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, maintaining social connections, keeping your mind active, and staying physically active, even in old age. 

Go for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a quick therapy technique that helps people with Death anxiety and other types of mental disorders to find a new and better way to behave by changing their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and habits. The beautiful thing about CBT is the availability of self-help courses. You can easily get these courses from the Internet or a therapist.

Conclusion: Why You Shouldn’t Fear Death

Sam Keen once said, “ The script for tomorrow is not yet written.” Your death might not happen as you fear it would, nor as soon as you imagine. No one knows for sure what it feels like (except the dead if I would say…)

So why panic? Why grow anxious about death?

Mark Twain would say “The fear of death follows from the fear of life…

This doesn’t mean you won’t get chills when contemplating your end, but if the fear of death prevents you from living fully, it’s as if you’ve already experienced the essence of death before its actual occurrence.

So before you get to the end, make it a meaningful journey with love, peace, and courage. 

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If you found this content helpful or have some questions, please let us know in the comments section. 

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