Thanatophobia is an extreme fear of death or the dying process. You might be scared of your own death or the death of a loved one. Psychotherapy can help most people overcome this disorder.
Thanatophobia is an intense fear of death or the dying process. Another name for this condition is “death anxiety.” You might be anxious about your own death or the death of someone you care about.
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A phobia is an intense sense of worry or panic about certain activities, objects or situations. A specific phobic disorder, such as thanatophobia, is a type of anxiety disorder. Other examples of phobic disorders include claustrophobia (fear of small, confined spaces) and aerophobia (fear of flying).
Thanatophobia is different than necrophobia. Necrophobia is a fear of dead things (corpses) or places that contain dead things, such as graveyards.
It’s natural to feel some sense of worry about death or dying. After all, it’s normal to fear the unknown. You might think dying will be scary, painful or lonely. But if you have thanatophobia, your fear of death affects your daily life. It may make it difficult to function at school, work or in social situations. You may experience physical symptoms, such as a panic attack, when you think about dying. Or you might go out of your way to avoid talking about death or the dying process.
Research suggests that death anxiety is common, though people tend not to report their feelings. One study shows that between 3% and 10% of people feel they’re more nervous than others about the thought of dying.
Thanatophobia can affect adults and children. It’s more common in people who:
One study suggests that elderly people are more likely to fear the dying process, while young adults are more likely to fear death itself. Another study found that the children of elderly parents actually had a higher level of death anxiety than their parents, peaking at around middle age.
It’s possible for a specific event or experience to trigger thanatophobia. For instance, you may develop death anxiety if you:
A fear of death can also be at the root of many other phobias like:
If you have thanatophobia, thoughts of death may cause intense feelings of panic, fear, dread or depression. You may avoid places or situations that seem dangerous. You might also become obsessed with your health, constantly checking for signs of illness. It’s not uncommon for people with death anxiety to spend a lot of time looking for abnormal moles, checking their blood pressure or researching medical information. They can develop hypochondriasis, which is a disorder that causes excessive worry about becoming ill.
Other symptoms might resemble those of a panic attack. Intense thoughts of death may trigger:
There isn’t a test for diagnosing thanatophobia. Your healthcare provider will carefully review your symptoms and ask a variety of questions about your fear of death. They rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or other anxiety disorders.
Healthcare providers typically diagnose specific phobic disorders when:
If a fear of death affects your ability to function at school, work or in social situations, seek treatment from a healthcare provider. You may benefit from psychotherapy, which helps you talk through your fear and anxiety.
Types of psychotherapy include:
Medication for thanatophobia or other specific phobic disorders hasn’t proven very effective. But your healthcare provider may recommend anti-anxiety drugs if you have to be in a stressful or fearful situation, like a funeral.
There’s no way to prevent thanatophobia. But you can reduce its effects on your life by:
Most people with thanatophobia respond very well to treatment. In fact, studies show that exposure therapy helps most people living with specific phobic disorders.
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Thanatophobia is an intense fear of death or the dying process. While it’s natural to feel anxious about death from time to time, thanatophobia is an anxiety disorder that can disrupt every aspect of your life. Don’t be afraid to talk to a healthcare provider about your fears. They can connect you with a mental health professional who can help you find healthy ways to overcome this condition.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/20/2022.
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