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Nov. 1, 2021

Understanding Fear of Death Anxiety

Understanding Fear of Death Anxiety

Fear of death anxiety is a phenomenon that causes excessive worry, fear and stress. Learn about why people become afraid to die.


Fear of Death

Humans have had a fear of death for a long as we have been able to record history. In today's episode, Frank looks at fear of death anxiety and why it is important to live life with purpose. 

Show Highlights

  • What is Fear of Death Anxiety?
  • Existential purposes of life
  • Discussion about Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning
  • Our unique place in the universe  
  • Life after death story
Transcript

Welcome to another episode of the anxiety therapist podcast. My name's Frank Sasso. I'm a mental health therapist and personal fitness trainer out of the windy city, Chicago, Illinois. So if you haven't done so already, please hit the follow button on whatever app you're listening with this way you'll never miss another episode. All right, in today's show, I want to talk to you about this phenomenon that's very, very common with people and that's this fear of death. When I say fear of death, I'm not referring to someone who's having a panic and thinking that they're gonna drop dead any second. That's different because panic attacks can include this physiological change in the body, like a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or feeling dizzy, which can cause a person to literally believe they're about to die. Again, this is different. Instead, what I'm talking about is the fear that people have when they start thinking about the fact that one day in the future, their life will eventually come to an end.

 

Today's show is sponsored by my new E-Book: 5 Ways to Deal With Anxiety. Learn practical skills for brining your anxiety under control! 

 

I know this is a morbid subject, but trust me, many, many people worry about this. And some people can become so consumed with thoughts about their own death that they go right down the rabbit hole of worry and end up drowning in this sea of sadness and anxiety. That's why that by the end of today's show, I'm hoping you'll spend less time worrying about the day you'll die and more time focusing on living your life to the fullest. In other words, let your fear that you haven't made the most out of every opportunity be the driving force that motivates you from this very moment. 

 

So before I get started just a fast disclaimer, this show is not a replacement for mental health counseling or medical care, and I'm not your personal therapist. 

 

The word Thanatophobia is the official word to describe a fear of death. It actually comes to us from Greek mythology. So the story goes like this, thousands of years ago, Thanatos was believed to be this primordial God of death. It was said that he appeared to mortals at the end of their lives in order to guide them into the underworld. And since no one could escape death, even in Greek mythology, Thanatos was feared by all. And if you remember back to maybe when you were in school and you read a little bit about Greek mythology, you'll remember hearing about Thanatos and Hades who ruled the Greek underworld. So as you can see, humans have been considering their own mortality for a very long time. In fact, there's evidence in the historical record that Neanderthal man buried their dead. And that suggests that even our ancient human ancestors have been thinking about this topic for a long time.

 

And anybody out there who thinks that Neanderthal men were like these stupid cavemen they’re not. These people were actually very smart with emotions, with feelings, with art, and maybe even language. 

 

Now it's totally normal for a person to think about their own death. The problem happens when it consumes our every thought and we I'm obsessed about it. That's when it's a good idea to get a different perspective because let's face it from the instant you are born. You get closer to death every day you live the closer you become to death. And it sounds horrible, but this is reality. This is nature. This is a part of life and we can't do anything to stop it. Now look, one day in the future, perhaps our human civilization will advance to a point where we can pretty much slow down or stop the aging process with advances in DNA treatments, or maybe Nano bots one day it's, it's not off the table. Perhaps this can be slowed down or stopped, but right now we can't avoid it. 

 

There's a book I wanna recommend to anyone who's interested in this subject. It's called Man's Search for Meaning. And it was written by the father of logotherapy Victor Frankel. During World War II, Victor Frankel was a prisoner at Germany's Alwis concentration camp. He entered unthinkable suffering at the hands of the Nazis. He was beaten, tortured, starved, and made to perform hard, hard labor until he could barely stand on his own two feet. All the while he watched his fellow inmates die from disease and malnutrition and outright murder. For Victor Frankel the fear of death was very real. It was something that he was forced to think about during every waking moment. And to make matters worse his mother, father, brother, and even wife were all killed at the concentration camps.

 

And yet, while these horrific things were happening, the worst kind of things were happening all around him. Victor Frankel found a way to mentally survive and that's the key. He mentally survived. He did this by reaching deep down inside during the worst circumstances imaginable to find meaning in his own life. It was thinking about this purpose or this meaning in his life that enabled him to survive the concentration camp. In other words, Frankel was saying that even during times of intense suffering sadness, and loss, its finding meaning in your life that will get you through the hard times. So folks I want you to consider the fact that you have a choice in this life. You can choose to feel sad and worried about the fact that we will all eventually die, or you can choose to fear the fact that your life is unfulfilled. In other words, have a fear that you haven't made the most out of every day, that you haven't made the most out of every opportunity. Let that fear drive your life. 

 

Now you might be thinking right now, how do I find purpose in my own life? Well, it's an age-old question that only you can answer for yourself, but let me see if I can help you start the process by answering this one question. Ask yourself, what would you want people to remember about you after you're no longer here? For me I want people to remember me as being this genuinely good person who truly cared about other people and that somehow, maybe I made a difference. Maybe I made a positive difference in someone else's life. In doing this episode, I came across this book written by Bronnie Ware and it's titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. 

 

Bronnie was this hospice care nurse. And she recorded did the final thoughts of her patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. You can find the link in the show notes. I'll leave it for you. But here are the five top regrets people mentioned before their own death. And I'll just read them to you and I'll chime in as I go along. Number one, I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. And, can you relate to that? I mean, how many times in our own lives do we try to keep up with the Joneses or live this lifestyle that others expect us to live without being authentic to ourselves without pursuing our own dreams, our own aspirations, because somebody else thinks we're supposed to live a certain lifestyle, and that can be really difficult because again, it goes back to living a life that's unfulfilled. And these people who were in hospice that were very close to death. This was at the top of their mind. 

 

Number two, I wish I wouldn't have worked so hard. And boy, this is a big one because there's a lot of people out there that throw themselves into work. And again, there's nothing wrong with work, but they throw themselves into work with so many hours with so much dedication that they let themselves go, that they don't spend enough time with their family. They don't spend enough time taking care of themselves to a point where work becomes all consuming. It's this thing that's always there and there's nothing else. And again, these people at the end of their lives said, I wish I could have redone that because I would've done it a different way. 

 

Number three, I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. Now you can extrapolate from that, whatever you like. But I know for me, just, even at my own age I really wish that I would've let people know how important they are to me, how they made a difference in my life. And there's still time that I can do that. But for these people, it wasn't so maybe those, those people in their lives passed away, or they were no longer around where they could talk to them. So to take away from this, if somebody is in your life and they've made a difference for you, they've mattered to you, make sure you express it to 'em, let them know that they had an influence on your life and that it mattered. 

 

Number four, this kind of ties closely with number three, I wish I would've stayed in touch with my friends. Boy, when I think about that one, I look back to high school or grade school, and there's quite a few people I know who are no longer with us. And I'm not that old to be quite honest with you, but life happens. And even within myself, I wish I would've kept in touch with more of my friends. And for you, if you know someone out there that you've been friends with, maybe it's been a few years, think about how good it might feel to contact that person. Just check in, just see how their life is going. You might be surprised at how good that can make you feel.

 

 And number five, I wish I had let myself be happier. Boy that is a big one. Maybe it's the biggest one because we walk around this lifestyle and some of us can be so stiff and thinking that we have to work hard all the time or that we have to do things a certain way and we don't let ourselves enjoy just the small things of life. So the whole point of reading out this list is again, live your life till it's fullest live each moment as if it matters almost as if it's gonna be your last day. And I don't want to be a doomsayer. But what I'm trying to say to you is you wanna make it count. You don’t want to have so many regrets.

 

 Okay, so in the beginning part of this episode, I tried to make this existential point of why it's so crucial to make the most out of every day and to live your life to the fullest. And I also explained why a person would want find meaning and purpose in their life. But here's the thing for a lot of people they're going to ask the question, well, wait a second I don't have a fear of not making the most out of every day of my life, I already do that. My fear is what happens after I die? What will become of me? And to be honest, mankind has been trying to answer that question for thousands of years. In fact, in order to answer it, you'd have to take in religious, cultural, scientific factors to just begin to even try and form an answer and trust me, plenty of people have. I'm not gonna try to do that today, but I am going to suggest to you that there are things in this universe that we are not yet meant to understand that maybe we will never understand. 

 

I want to talk about a few concepts here and tie it into this fear of death or this death anxiety to try to illustrate my point. And I hope you'll stick with me. I'm gonna make this very basic. You can find some of the things that I'm talking about in almost any eighth grade science book. Now, before I begin, I want you to know that I'm not some overly religious person or overly spiritual. And in fact, I can't stand it when someone tries to put their spiritual or their religious beliefs in my face. In fact, it repels me. So I'm not gonna do that today. But what I am gonna suggest to you is that none of this, none of this reality sort of happened on accident. It didn't sort of randomly occur. It wasn't sort of something that happened out of thin air. I'm saying that some energy, some force, some thing, some being is behind the reality we experience and maybe after we die. I'm gonna do my best to explain myself here. 

 

So when I say there are phenomenon or things in our universe that we can't yet explain, or that we may never be able to explain, let's start with talking about the earth and its relation in our solar system. All right, we all know that the earth is the third planet from the sun. It's approximately 93 million and miles from the earth to the sun. Now had the earth formed just a few million miles closer to the sun. It may have been too hot for organic life to sort of form and for life to have evolved into human beings. The same goes the other way, had this planet been a few million miles further away from the sun it may have been too cold, too cold for an atmosphere, too cold for organic life to evolve to a point where it got to where we have homo sapiens or humans, but that's not the case. The fact of the matter is we're in the exact distance. We need to be for life to form.

 

 And they actually call that the Goldilock zone. Why the Goldilock zone. If you remember in Goldilocks, the porridge was just right. It wasn't too hot. It wasn't too cold. So we are in this habitable zone. I don't think that that's just random. I don't think that that happened as a coincidence. But let's take it a step further when we think about the earth, let's consider our moon. The earth is the only planet in our solar system that has one moon. Other planets have multiple moons, but yet on this planet we have one. And why is that important? Because the moon actually regulates our tides it may have had something to do with how the continents formed. We really don't know everything about it. And when we look out into space through the Kepler telescope, we do see other planets that are in that Goldilock zone. As I was saying, they're just close enough to their sun. Not too close will be too hot, but close enough where life could possibly evolve. But very few of 'em have one moon that matters. Again this just didn't happen out of thin air. It wasn't random. 

 

All right, next, let's look into our own solar system at the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and it's massive. In fact, you could fit 1400 earths inside of Jupiter. And because it's so massive, it has such a gravitational field that it can actual protect the earth. It can pull in large objects and asteroids into Jupiter before they can reach the earth. And it doesn't happen that frequently, in fact, the last big asteroid that hit the earth was thought to have happened 65 million ago. And that one took out the dinosaurs.

 

 Now again, when we look through NASA's telescopes, we do see other Jupiter like planets in other solar systems, but here's the strange thing they are called hot Jupiter. And the reason they're called that is because they're so close to their sun. But unlike here in our solar system, Jupiter is exactly the fifth planet. It's not close to the sun and it's situated in such a place that it can protect the earth from objects flying into us. Who did that ? Who created it? Why is it made that way? No one really knows. Sure. There are theories, but no one really knows.

 

Finally, to button up this sort of scientific part about death anxiety, and not really knowing what, what is happening in our own reality or after we die. Consider for a moment, the speed of light, light travels at 186,000 miles per second. How fast is that? Well, if, you were to flash a flashlight and watch. If you could watch that photon of light travel around the earth, it would circle the globe seven times in one second. So just like that, it went around the earth seven times. And while that is fascinating, it really is. Here's the most interest part. 

 

According to Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than light. So no mass, no object, no particle can ever travel faster than light. Who created that rule or what created that rule? No one really knows if you're religious, you might say, God, if you're spiritual, you might say there was some sort of creator. And if you're of the science background, you might say, well, we just have to come up with an answer, but right now, no one can really tell you. And that's what I mean by, there are things in this universe that we will maybe never get the answer to. 

 

You know, there have been three incidences in my life that have happened and I'm talking on a spiritual level here that I actually can't explain. Now I'm a person who likes to believe in science. If there is a hypothesis in using the scientific method, it should be able to be proven either true or not true. But this incident I'm about to tell you actually happened and I have absolutely no explanation for what occurred. If you listen to this show, then you, you probably know that my wife is Filipino, and Filipinos by a large are very spiritual people. I know in my wife's family, they believe that when a person dies that person's spirit can visit you both in reality and in your dreams. Now I'm very respectful of my wife's culture and her religion and her beliefs. And I always sort of just went along with it, but I never really believed that any of that was possible, but that all changed.

 

A few years ago my wife one wanted to go to the cemetery to visit her father. My wife's in her forties, but when she was 18, she lost her dad to a heart attack. And trust me, we have spent many hours talking about her memories of her father. She loved her father very, very much. So she had kind of gotten to a point with her grief many years later, where she wanted to make that trip out to the cemetery and find her dad and visit with her dad. So I said, okay, let's do it. So we got in the car and I'll or forget, it was a very hot Memorial Day weekend here in the Windy City. And we went to a place called Mary Hill Catholic cemetery and we parked the car and we got out and we tried looking for her dad's grave site and we couldn't find it after 10 and 15 minutes, we just couldn't find it. So we sort of split up and we started going down the aisles and we're looking for her father's, grave site and his name. And again, couldn't find it. 

 

10 minutes turned into 15 minutes, 15 minutes turned into a half hour. And at this point my wife is in tears. She's frustrated, she's sad. And she told me, I feel embarrassed. I'm so ashamed. My dad is gonna be so disappointed in me because I can't find where he is buried. So we kept looking and we kept walking out there in the heat and we were both sweating. And at this point we were both aggravated and after 45 minutes, we just sort of turned around and headed towards the car. And when we got to the car at this point, my wife is agonizing. She just kept saying, my dad's just gonna be so upset with me, he's gonna be so disappointed that I couldn't find him. And of course there I am. And what can I do? I'm helpless.

 

 For whatever reason I've never done this before, I sort of just said in my own mind, I said, Mr. San Juan, and that that's my wife's maiden name. I said, Mr. San Juan. I said, if you're anywhere here, just give us some kind of signal. So we know where you're at. And a few seconds later, we heard this bird chirping and this, this bird was chirping loud and very fast. And I said honey, we got nothing else to go with. Let's follow the sound of this bird. And my wife was like, no, let's just get in the car. I'm really upset. I said, no, let's just do a honey. So we grabbed hands and we started walking towards the sound of this bird. And after a few minutes, we finally located the bird and there he was. And he was sitting at this grave site. And we walked up to it the bird flew away. I'll never forget it was this brown baby bird. And when he flew away, we wiped away the dust over the top of this plot. And there it was her father's grave site.

 

I couldn't believe it. And I looked at my wife. I said, how in the hell could this be possible? I have Goosebumps even just describing this. I said, how could this be possible? How could it be that this bird chose this place to land at out of thousands of other grave sites at this cemetery? And my wife just looked at me and she very matter of faculty said, it's not a big, deal this is our Filipino way. This was my dad showing me where he's buried. 

 

Now look from this point forward, I actually never doubted my wife's culture or beliefs again, because I saw it for myself and I have no explanation for why that happen. Sure. There are probably scientific reasons that could say why that bird was there at that specific moment in time. But I can't think of any. So I just wanna stress to you when we talk about this anxiety and this fear of death, live your life to the fullest, make the most out of every day and find meaning in your life and realize there are things in this world in this reality, in this universe that we are not yet meant to understand. 

 

I wanna say thank you for taking the time out to listen to this show. If you enjoyed it, please leave a review on apple podcast or whatever app you listen with. I guess the more reviews it gets, the higher it's shown in the search results. Remember, you can reach me by emailing me simply go to anxietytherapistpodcast.com and click the contact button. You can also follow me on Instagram or Facebook. I'm Frank Sasso. And this has been another episode of the anxiety therapist podcast.