Fear of Death. When You or a Loved One Is Terminally Ill

Written by: Arooj Paulus – B. Sc (Applied Psychology)

Last updated date: February 27, 2023

The fear of death is intense and existential. It is a reality that you cannot escape. You may fear that you or your loved one might die because of a terminal illness. Let us look into the topic and how you can deal if you or someone you know has a terminal illness. So that your paralyzing fear of death will end. Instead, you can make the most of your time with your life. However, females are more prone to this fear as suggested by studies.


Chapter 1:

Fear of Death

The study of people’s reactions to death and dying is known as thanatology. While the fear of death is known as thanatophobia.

Most people have some level of fear of dying and death, which is highly prevalent. It differs from person to person how much that worry manifests and what it directly relates to. Although some worry is helpful because it makes us more vigilant.

The prevalence of death anxiety has sparked numerous study initiatives and piqued the interest of academics and religious bodies alike. Research suggests that almost 20 percent of people are extremely afraid of dying. Fear of dying may worsen due to a terminal illness when people get closer to passing away. One of the key goals of healthcare services is to assist people who are dying to lessen this dread.

Following are the signs of fear of death

  • If you have had an excessive fear of death for at least 6 months.
  • If you are overthinking about death or the process of dying.
  • Having a spike in fear every time the word ‘death’ is mentioned.
  • If you avoid conversations that might require you to discuss death and the process of dying.
  • If you have panic attacks concerning death.

Chapter 2:

Types of Fear of Death

Here are some of the types and examples that what it may look like to have a fear of dying.

1. When You Are Concerned About Pain and Anguish

You may worry that death is a painful process and you will have to go through a painful process. Both healthy people and those who have a terminal illness such as cancer frequently experience the fear of death.

2. When You Are Afraid of the Future

Death is still the greatest mystery since no one has ever escaped it to explain what happens when we exhale our final breath. We as humans are curious to explore the future. So that we might be prepared for it beforehand. Understanding and trying to make sense of things is in our nature as humans. Everyone alive recognizes that they will never truly comprehend death. Hence we may fear what will happen after our death.

3. When You Feel Helpless

Although it’s in our nature to want to control the things that happen to us. Death is nevertheless something that we have no power whatsoever over. It scares a lot of people. Some people may make an effort to exert some degree of control over death by acting exceedingly cautiously to minimize hazards or by having complete regular health checkups.

4. When You Fear Your Existence

Sense of existence is something we worry about when we are alive and even think about when we die. Usually, we may think of atheists or other people who do not have personal religious or spiritual views as having this kind of fear. The truth is that a lot of religious people are also concerned that their faith in an afterlife is unfounded or that they did not work hard enough to gain the afterlife while in the world.

5. When You Fear Your Mistakes and Sins

This concept does not simply hold for sincere followers of religious or spiritual religion, much like the fear of nonexistence. Regardless of their religious beliefs, many individuals worry that they will be condemned for the things they did or did not accomplish while in the world. When someone has a terminal illness they may also think of it as a punishment for their sins. Fear of death intensifies in this case.

6. When You Worry About Your Loved Ones

Concern over what will happen to the people in our care if we pass away is fairly prevalent in people who fear death. Parents, for instance, might be concerned for a baby or young child. It’s common for family caregivers to worry that no one else can meet their patient’s numerous demands and wants when providing in-home care for a dear one. You may also fear leaving a partner or spouse alone due to death.

Chapter 3:

How to Cope with Fear of Death?

Living in the present can benefit both you and the person you care about who has a terminal illness or is otherwise in high danger of passing away. Don’t shy away from discussing death or fear of death since you or your loved one might need to voice their emotions and worries. Place a high priority on maintaining your health by making sure you get enough sleep, eat well, and have a supportive social network.

Fear of death is more intense if you or your loved one has any terminal illness. Speaking about dying is usually challenging. You might be concerned that you will undermine your spouse’s resolve to carry on or paralyze your friends with fear. Speaking about death can come off as a type of abandonment since it implies that you have given up on the hope that a treatment is still possible. The words might clog your mouth from your fear, anguish, and pain. Hence to regulate your painful emotions, we suggest you talk to someone you trust, seek therapy, or join a support group.

Chapter 4:

Call to Action

You can read and learn more about fear and anxiety at Epsychonline by reading “Death Anxiety in Your 20s – What Are the Death Anxiety Symptoms?”

Further, you can start a course “Managing IBS” or “Low Self-esteem” on Epsychonline. Research has shown that self-esteem serves as a protective factor against the fear of death. So building self-esteem will help you to reduce your death anxiety symptoms.

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