Thanatophobia: Understanding the anxiety of death

What is tanatofobia?

Thanatophobia is commonly known as the fear of death. More specifically, it can be a fear of death or a fear of the process of dying.

It is natural for someone to worry about their own health as they get older. It is also common for someone to worry about their friends and family after they have left. However, in some people, these concerns can become more problematic concerns and fears.

The American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize thanatophobia as a disorder. In contrast, the anxiety that someone may face due to this fear is often attributed to general anxiety.

The signs and symptoms of thanatophobia include anxiety, fear and anguish. The treatment focuses on learning to refocus fears and talk about their feelings and concerns.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of thanatophobia may not be present at all times. In fact, you may only notice signs and symptoms of this fear when you begin to think about your death or the death of a loved one.

The most common symptoms of this psychological condition include:

  • more frequent panic attacks

  • greater anxiety

  • dizziness

  • perspiration

  • heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats

  • nausea

  • stomach ache

  • Sensitivity to cold or hot temperatures.

When episodes of thanatophobia begin or worsen, you may also experience various emotional symptoms. These may include:

  • Avoid friends and family for long periods of time.

  • anger

  • sadness

  • agitation

  • guilt

  • persistent worry

Which are the risk factors?

Some people are more likely to develop a fear of death or experience fear of dying. These habits, behaviors or personality factors can increase your risk of developing tanatofobia:


Anxiety about death reaches its peak in a person's 20 years. It fades away as they get older.


Both men and women experience tanatofobia in their 20s. However, women experience a secondary peak of tanatofobia in their 50s.

Parents near the end of life

It has been suggested that elderly people experience thanatophobia less often than younger people. However, the elderly may fear the process of dying or health in poor condition. Your children, however, are more likely to fear death. They are also more likely to say that their parents are afraid of dying because of their own feelings.


People who are less humble are more likely to worry about their own death. People with higher levels of humility feel less important and are more willing to accept the journey of life. That means they are less likely to have death anxiety.

Health problems

People with more physical health problems experience greater fear and anxiety when considering their future.

How is thanatophobia diagnosed?

Thanatophobia is not a clinically recognized condition. There is no evidence that can help doctors diagnose this phobia. But a list of your symptoms will give doctors a better understanding of what you are experiencing.

The official diagnosis will probably be anxiety. Your doctor, however, will notice that your anxiety is due to the fear of dying or dying. Some people with anxiety experience symptoms for more than six months. They may also experience fear or worry about other problems, too. The diagnosis for this broader anxiety condition may be a generalized anxiety disorder.

If your GP is not sure of a diagnosis, they can refer you to a mental health specialist. This could include a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. If the mental health specialist makes a diagnosis, it can also provide treatment. Get more information on how to find and choose a doctor to treat anxiety.

How is thanatophobia treated?

Treatment for anxiety and phobias such as thanatophobia focuses on relieving the fear and worry associated with this issue. To do this, your doctor can use one or more of these options:

Conversation therapy

Sharing what you experience with a therapist can help you cope better with your feelings. Your therapist will also help you learn ways to cope when these feelings occur.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

This type of treatment focuses on creating practical solutions to problems. The goal is to eventually change your thought pattern and reassure your mind when you face talking about death or dying.

Relaxation techniques

The techniques of meditation, images and breathing can help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety when they occur. Over time, these techniques can help you reduce your specific fears in general.


Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the anxiety and feelings of panic that are common with phobias. However, medication is rarely a long-term solution. It can be used for a short period of time while working to face your fear in therapy.

What is the perspective?

Worrying about your future, or the future of a loved one, is normal. While we can live in the moment and enjoy each other, the fear of death or dying can still worry anyone.

If the concern panics or feels too extreme to handle on your own, seek help. A doctor or therapist can help you learn ways to cope with these feelings and redirect your feelings.

If your concerns about death are related to a recent diagnosis or the illness of a friend or relative, talking to someone about what you are experiencing may be helpful.

Do not let this fear or worry overwhelm you. Ask for help and learn how to handle these feelings and fears in a healthy way.

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