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Thoughts on Death Anxiety?

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This topic contains 37 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of anita anita 2 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #122172
    Profile photo of Amandine
    Amandine
    Participant

    Hello everyone,
    I am new to the forums and to Tiny Buddha; I discovered the website while scrolling on the web in a search of something that would put my mind at ease on the subject – and I’ve found this forum to be very open-minded and welcoming, and I thought I might find some solace on it.

    As the title indicates, my problem is a quite common one: I fear death. It began some two months ago (while I had this fear in childhood) and intensified a month ago, and it has become quite bothersome.
    I am a 20 years old female student, I’ve been depressed for quite some time but it was pretty manageable, but lately my fear of death became quite crippling: because of death, I find it quite complicated to enjoy life. It might sound silly, but I feel like death negates my whole existence. While I began to research on buddhist practices and came for advice on a buddhist (?) forum, I don’t believe in Rebirth (and I am not very knowledgeable on the subject): I think that when we die, we lose consciousness and it’s the end.
    But that simple thought scares me to the very core. What am I living for, if all of my memories will fade away one day? Why does living even matter if we die in the end and everything vanishes in the void? What is the aim if humanity is condemned to die anyway, and even if I manage to make history, why would it matter since everyone will die?
    Those thoughts are quite silly, and sometimes I manage to think at them and laugh (like right now) and tell myself I live for my own enjoyment, until one day I die thinking “wow, it was a good ride”, but rapidly they come back and instantly depress me: when I think about my future, I can only see death (not talking about suicide, but like my death when I’ll be old).
    Such anxiety sometimes makes me feel like I’m “trapped” in life: like I’m in some physical place between two void, and that everything is meaningless and thus not real (that may be linked to the fact that I’m suffering from derealisation and depersonnalisation, while it has been pretty manageable lately)

    I reassure myself thinking that I’m young, and that it’s the exact reason why I’m so prone of being terrified by death, that those thoughts about the reality of my life are just the result of anxiety but while I work on myself, meditate, try to face my fears and accept them, I can’t seem to accept my own mortality. I’m afraid I will be trapped in this negativity forever, and that wherever I will be able to go out of that anxiety, I will fall in it again because I enjoy life way too much. I WANT to enjoy life: if I’m here to live, let’s enjoy life! But my fear keeps me from doing that.

    I know no magic spell exists to erase my fear, but what are you thoughts? What do you think I should do? I plan on keeping on meditating and working on myself, but it seems to take time, and I’m afraid it will go nowhere, even though I know it do take time to learn to live with our fears and that being afraid it will go nowhere is exactly WHY it will go nowhere. I started seeing a psychologist but my therapy hasn’t started yet.
    Has anyone been in this case? Is patience is the key or am I condemned to live with this anxiety all the rest of my life because I can’t quite change my nihilism? What should I do to ease my fears before I can completely accept them? I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

    Thanks for reading this all. Even writing it put my mind to ease a little.

    #122185
    Profile photo of Peter
    Peter
    Participant

    Personally I don’t understand the fear of death, though I do at times fear the process of dying.

    For me if death means a return to the void of nothingness well then any fears would also disappear into the void so their can be no point to worrying about it. If we return to the void and unconsciousness you will not experience being dead so could never experience your fear.

    That said the existential questions you ask remain (which may be the source of your real fear – not of death but living)
    – what am I living for, if all of my memories will fade away one day? Why does living even matter if we die in the end and everything vanishes in the void?

    What is the meaning of life, why am I here… Millions of books written on that one.

    I think Joseph Campbell hits close to the mark when he said “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to life. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.

    Living your best life is meaning

    And I like Five for Fighting song – the riddle and would answer your questions in the same clue .

    You looking for a clue – I Love You free...

    There was a man back in ’95
    Whose heart ran out of summers
    But before he died, I asked him
    Wait, what’s the sense in life
    Come over me, Come over me

    He said,
    Son why you got to sing that tune
    Catch a Dylan song or some eclipse of the moon
    Let an angel swing and make you swoon
    Then you will see… You will see

    Then he said,
    Here’s a riddle for you
    Find the Answer
    There’s a reason for the world
    You and I…

    Picked up my kid from school today
    Did you learn anything cause in the world today
    You can’t live in a castle far away
    Now talk to me, come talk to me

    He said,
    Dad I’m big but we’re smaller than small
    In the scheme of things, well we’re nothing at all
    Still every mother’s child sings a lonely song
    So play with me, come play with me

    And Hey Dad
    Here’s a riddle for you
    Find the Answer
    There’s a reason for the world
    You and I…

    I said,
    Son for all I’ve told you
    When you get right down to the
    Reason for the world…
    Who am I?

    There are secrets that we still have left to find
    There have been mysteries from the beginning of time
    There are answers we’re not wise enough to see
    He said… You looking for a clue I Love You free…

    The batter swings and the summer flies
    As I look into my angel’s eyes
    A song plays on while the moon is high over me
    Something comes over me

    I guess we’re big and I guess we’re small
    If you think about it man you know we got it all
    Cause we’re all we got on this bouncing ball
    And I love you free
    I love you freely

    Here’s a riddle for you
    Find the Answer
    There’s a reason for the world
    You and I…
    Songwriters: John Ondrasik

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Profile photo of Peter Peter.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Profile photo of Peter Peter.
    #122192
    Profile photo of anita
    anita
    Participant

    Dear chokko:

    This is the greatest downside of being human, as opposed to being other animals: we know (at any age and at any health status) that we will die.

    And we don’t like it. We find it distressing.

    What does our thinking, problem solving brain do when it detects distress? It tries to locate the problem and solve it. So the problem is: I will die. How does the brain go about solving it?

    You wrote: “I can’t seem to accept my own mortality.” First, the brain says: I am not accepting it. I am going to solve the problem and eliminate my distress. Now how do I go about it…

    Keep thinking, is what the brain does, scaring itself as it thinks and thinks.

    Is there a solution? Not to death, as we are all in the same boat, all headed that way, without fail, without exception.
    The solution is to accept it best you can, accept it not as the exception to the rule of life, but the rule itself.

    If every single living thing on this planet died or will die, is it then such a big deal? If it was such a tragedy, why does it happen every single time?

    I know I will die. I don’t like it. It scares me when I see myself dead, in my mind’s eye. I am going to take a walk in nature soon, as I do daily. Sometimes I come across a dead bird or snake. I look at the dead bird, or snake. And I think: some day it will be me.

    Morbid? I say not. Realistic.

    anita

    #122198
    Profile photo of Bernhardt
    Bernhardt
    Participant

    Death,actually, sometimes is not that distressing as we all see it usually be.
    If you live in the life right now, I mean, do whatever you enjoy, and do good things, do for people, then no matter what, you live in worth.

    #122251
    Profile photo of Amandine
    Amandine
    Participant

    Sorry for the quite late reply.

    Thank you all very much for your answers. Those are things I already know, and I’m not saying because I think it is useless to repeat the same, but rather it reassures me that I’m on the way to ease my fear, slowly but surely.
    I know that rather than death itself it is the lack of meaning in life that I fear; I have to work on myself a lot to make my life feels meaningful.
    My real deal right now is that whenever I try to do so, there is like a voice in my head saying “it’s all useless: you will die one day”. Sometimes, it strikes me while I do everyday things and totally stops me in my will.
    The fact that I suffer from derealisation doesn’t help much either – because I feel is real, or important, and everything is a matter of my perception.

    But anyway, thanks again for your answers. I will ponder on them and work hard on myself to live my life to the fullest.

    #122253
    Profile photo of Bernhardt
    Bernhardt
    Participant

    Take time to read heart sutra out loud, it will help you in so many ways and only take you five minutes.

    http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/heartstr.htm

    #122262
    Profile photo of anita
    anita
    Participant

    Dear chokko:

    Your experience of derealisation tells me that your anxiety is significant. You fear life and death, then. Would you like to share about the origin of your anxiety- when did it start, in your childhood? In what circumstances?

    anita

    #122265
    Profile photo of Peter
    Peter
    Participant

    My real deal right now is that whenever I try to do so, there is like a voice in my head saying “it’s all useless: you will die one day”. Sometimes, it strikes me while I do everyday things and totally stops me in my will.

    I very much relate, you are not alone.

    My experience has been that the car/self goes were the eyes go. If you’re driving on ice and start to lose control of the car and can’t take your eyes off the tree on the side of the road that you fear you’re going to hit. You are going to hit it. Professional drivers know that to avoid the crash they must look ahead to where they want to go, the body reactions, if they trust/let it, will do the rest.

    My strategy has been to notice as soon as possible when I’m looking at such questions as “it’s all useless”, acknowledge it without labeling, and then look instead at where I want to go. It’s a practice and I’m not always successful however those moments don’t last as long

    Have you read the book The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or seen the movie
    When it comes to exploring thoughts on existential angst that you are experiencing it does a pretty good job.

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Profile photo of Peter Peter.
    #122286
    Profile photo of Nina Sakura
    Nina Sakura
    Participant

    Dear chokko,

    It would be best if you seek help for derealization and depression.

    These thoughts are rather a symptom of the mind being frayed by something else. These thoughts prevent a reasonable functioning on a daily basis because they further perpetuate depression as everything feels damn pointless.

    Other than meditation, get involved in a physically taxing activity like swimming or biking. Journal your thoughts often.

    Death is a reality that has to be accepted. I have no clue about whether rebirth really happens but what we can do is make the best of our time here while we are still alive. This doesn’t mean just at 20, it means any time when you are still alive. Every moment has potential to be memorable, a learning curve.

    #122295
    Profile photo of Amandine
    Amandine
    Participant

    Viktolis: thank you very much. I find it quite hard to understand due to many terms I’m not familiar with, but the few I understand makes me want to learn even more about Buddhism!

    *

    Anita: I can’t really state when it begin, I just know that I was prone to death anxiety when I was 8 or so (normal enough for a kid, I think?), and that I really, truly, and immensely feared the end of the world when I was 10 or 11 (I firmly believed that the world would end in 2012, and I read the book of Revelation and since I was a child, it quite shooked me up at the time). I remember being prone to intense anxiety and praying everyday, relying on God to ease me (I did not follow much doctrine, and I’m not a Believer anymore).
    It came back 3 months ago (I wrote “2 months” before, but it started in September) because I had a panic attack, everything was pilling up in my life, I broke up with my ex boyfriend, classes were starting again, I was quite stressed at the moment of the panic attack because I was driving (though my anxiety really started being crippling when I went in a city quite far from my own to see a friend), I had a bad experience with drugs (sigh) some weeks before, and since that panic attack I started having derealisation, which made me ponder on everything about life and doubting everything metaphysically speaking… So I started doubting my existence, and my death anxiety, which I believed was buried deep in my subconscious, came back and hit me in the face, just like some switch was put on “on” or just like if I realised how absurd existence was.
    There is also the fact that my grandfather is ill and slowly dying: I managed to get my anxiety better in October, and when I went to see him in November my derealisation and fears came back right again, so I think it may be linked, though I am not sure and I feel like I’m rejecting my mental state on my grandfather.

    *

    Peter: thank you very much for your answer. I like your mindset! I like to create metaphors to set my goals and reassure me, and I really like yours. When I started having bad anxiety in september, I was really thinking of ending it all because why not, since I’m gonna die anyway? But when I was feeling hopeless, I started imagining life as if I was in a train: I know the journey will end, but there’s no point in getting down before its end. Sometimes the landscape gets dark and ugly and I’m afraid it will stay like this forever, but sometimes the landscape is beautiful and I’m glad I stayed here to get to see it. Thinking like that lift my spirit up until intrusive thoughts strike again, but I will keep your metaphor in mind as well. I really really like it.
    I read this book a while ago, but I forgot most of it… I will refresh my memory by giving it a look again once I finish reading Life of Pi by Yann Martell. Thank you!

    *

    Nina Sakura: I’m currently seeking help, but the process is quite slow, unfortunately! (I started seeing a psychologist in October, but the therapy still hasn’t started yet. I will have another appointment next week, though.)
    I’m not a very athletic person (like… not at all, actually), but you’re not the first person to tell me to do that. I really should start having a physical activity, but I’m unmotivated, and the cold temperature doesn’t help. (I think like I’m justificating my laziness, haha). I often write my fears down, when you say “journal your thoughts”, you mean every thoughts, even the positive ones, right?
    Thank you very much for that piece of wisdom.

    *

    Sorry for the quite long message, and thanks everyone for taking the time to answer me. It really helps me!

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Profile photo of Amandine Amandine.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Profile photo of Amandine Amandine.
    #122303
    Profile photo of anita
    anita
    Participant

    Dear chokko:

    There was a combination of new stressors in your life lately: the breakup with your boyfriend, startup of classes in school, a recent bad experience with drugs, your grandfather slowly dying, and experiencing a panic attack while driving.

    Depersonalization and derealization in themselves add to anxiety. These are responses to anxiety but they are also scary in themselves.

    Psychotherapy with a competent therapist is the best option, of course. And I hope you will soon be able to attend such.

    One way to deal with anxiety is what I call the Macro Solution: managing your life best you can to minimize anxiety: avoiding abusive people, experimentation with drugs (!), driving when tired or when conditions are dangerous; paying attention to all that you do so to avoid accidents and sickness; plan your day, implement daily aerobic exercise like a fast walk and so forth.

    The Micro Solution is anything from Emotional Regulation skills taught in good psychotherapy (Mindfulness, healthy distractions, and more)

    …as well as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) tools, such as feeling distress— identifying the thought right before the distress— examining the thought for distortions such as distortedly believing a bad feeling will last forever (“Sometimes the landscape gets dark and ugly and I’m afraid it will stay like this forever”)— correcting the thought so it fits reality—What follows next is a relief of distress.

    Mindfulness is extremely effective and it does take time and practice. Over time you are able to stay with the anxiety and you learn you can survive it without panicking; without falling and falling into that bottomless pit.

    anita

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 2 weeks ago by Profile photo of anita anita.
    #122319
    Profile photo of Nina Sakura
    Nina Sakura
    Participant

    Dear chokko,

    Well it would be beneficial to write all kinds of thoughts, positive ones too. I have often re-read the positive ones I have written.

    Psychotherapy will indeed take some time and won’t work in just a session or two. So continue to go and remain patient.

    Regarding exercise, perhaps you can try yoga or even breathing exercises for now. Those can be easily done indoors, regular strecting too or those aerobics videos, things like Fitness Blender videos.

    Mind and body work together. Only dealing with your stress mentally will only get you so far as anxiety is also bodily. Certain hormones are also involved in this process.

    So physical exercise or relaxation method is much recommended. I have been trying this for number of years and it has helped the depression the most – things like cutting down sugar to about 1-0.5 teaspoons a day and regular walks, a quick run, proper sleep.

    Do give this a shot. The benefits are immense.

    Regards
    Nina

    #122323
    Profile photo of XenopusTex
    XenopusTex
    Participant

    Avoid the drugs. They don’t help anything. They aren’t going to open up other dimensions to you. They aren’t going to give you anything other than problems.

    #122332
    Profile photo of Peter
    Peter
    Participant

    I think your going to be ok and learn a great deal as you grow.

    #122461
    Profile photo of Amandine
    Amandine
    Participant

    Hello, once again, sorry for the late answer.

    Anita: I’ll have to be patient – my next appointment is on Tuesday and I think the actual therapy will start in January. However the clinic I’m going to is something dependant on the faculty I attend (I don’t know how to properly explain…) and since I’ll finish my studies at the faculty in April, I’m afraid I’ll have to change therapist again. Especially since I don’t know if the one I’ll have therapy with will be competent.
    Thank you for your answer. I’m familiar with these micro solutions (and I’m doing pretty much everything on the macro solutions list, besides exercise, but I will work on doing them) but I don’t know how to apply them. I think the therapy will help me with that, but the concept of mindfulness for exemple is quite foreign and kind of scary for me. Would you care to explain please?

    *

    Nina Sakura: Thank you for the advice, they help a lot. I bought a little notebook and I will start writing today, especially since my anxiety was VERY HIGH this afternoon. I will try out yoga tomorrow – it seems like it can relax me the most, and it seems not as physically draining as fitness programs… I tried those once and I couldn’t follow them since I was totally knocked out before the end of one video, so I will start with baby steps lol
    I will take walks when school starts again too, right now I’m at my parents’ home for the Holiday season, and it bothers me a little to go take walks here since there are almost no one in the streets.

    *

    XenopusTex: I tried drugs when I was feeling good, and I plan on avoiding them for the rest of my life. They only brought me wrong. That also applies for medicinal drugs… I’ll try my best to be better without them. Thank you.

    *

    Peter: thank you!!

    **

    I’ve found a forum TOPIC some time ago on which someone said they managed to reduce (or even overcome) their death anxiety and explained how they did it by writing their fears again and again for some time each day until they bore out of the sentences they’ve written and no longer felt fear about them. They did that as part of “homework” in therapy, and they suffered from OCD so said to be careful since this method was adapted to them. I think I will try it after speaking about it with my therapist, because I think facing my fears is the only solution to reduce my anxiety – after all it’s not like I can “suppress” the cause of my fear…
    Also, since I nearly had a panic attack this afternoon while having intrusive thoughts about death (that hadn’t happened that badly to me for like a week or two), I searched how do people can be positive while being nihilistic (because it seems to be the closest thing to my case) on the web, and they said pretty much the same thing you guys told me, to find meaning for myself and such, and that reassured me a lot as well. Thanks again for all the advice you’ve been giving me.

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