Living in a Pandemic is stressful, and it also brings the subject of our mortality to the surface, whether we like it or not. The unknown aspect of death is a source of anxiety. You must learn how to face fear of death and how to remove fear of death in order to manage stress and anxiety. Do you know how to do it?
The Unknown Terror of Death
Many creatures fight for life. We don’t know if bugs understand death, but they still fight to survive. Animals show grief when others they know die. Animals may not know they will die, but they recognize when something is no longer living.
People learn about fear early in life. But if you don’t learn how to face of death, it can be the unknown terror which plagues us all our lives. We’ll talk about four strategies you should use to help you deal with this eventuality, because if you don’t it will have adverse effects on your life.
“But how to know the falsity of death? How can we know there is no death? Until we know that, our fear of death will not go either. Until we know the falsity of death, our lives will remain false. As long as there is fear of death, there cannot be authentic life. As long as we tremble with the fear of death, we cannot summon the capacity to live our lives. One can live only when the shadow of death has disappeared forever. How can a frightened and trembling mind live? And when death seems to be approaching every second, how is it possible to live? How can we live?” — Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Osho
Learning How to Remove Fear of Death
There are four proven tactics to ease the existential anxiety of death. We’ll present them in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest first and working our way to those which are serious inner work. The more difficult methods provide the lasting solutions, but take more time and effort to see results.
1) Laughter and Humor
2) Eliminate Harmful Religious Baggage
3) Increased Social Interaction
How to Face Fear of Death
1) Laughter and Humor
Humor is a quick way to sidestep anxiety related to death. It also has positive psychological effects which last after the laughter is over. However, this does not remove the fixation with death. Watch a movie or video that makes you laugh. It’s that simple. You’ve finally found a healthy use for your mobile device (1).
Watch a scary movie and you reinforce the fear of death. Fear releases chemicals which stimulate the same areas in the brain that are receptors for pleasure. This is why people get addicted to scary movies, haunted houses and amusement parks. They are addicted to the high of fear. (2)
It wasn’t until 1979 that Norman Cousins published As Anatomy of an Illness, which outlined the analgesic effects of laughter. Laughing increases our immune response, exercises the cardiovascular system and achieving long-term physiological benefits. It’s no wonder cat videos are so popular. The results of laughter create an immediate change in our mental outlook.
Genuine laughter differs from mimicking the physical action of laughing. Also, laughter shared between two or more people builds a measure of trust and community. Here’s the reason TV shows use a laugh track. However, this tactic does not teach us how to face fear of death. Nor does it teach us how to remove fear of death. It is a temporary tactic which puts on the back shelf for a time, allowing us to function free of the unknown terror.
You can’t watch cat videos or the three stooges 24/7. So, humor has its place as a temporary strategy to give you immediate peace of mind.
2) Eliminate Harmful Religious Baggage
When children learn to talk, one of the first things they ask about is death. Does everyone die? What happens when you die? Will I die someday? These questions should lead us on a journey of exploration to find the value in life. However, religion steps in to provide answers. The answer is buy the version of the afterlife we are selling. Are you a customer?
Religion substitutes one fear for another. It doesn’t provide tools to investigate these essential questions. Instead, religions trade one fear for another. Instead of showing how to remove fear of death, they give you something else to fear — the afterlife. If you purchase their belief system and pay your dues, you go to heaven, the good afterlife. But if you don’t buy their religion, you go to hell, the bad afterlife. Heaven is paradise. Hell is the worst kind of torture you can imagine. (3)
Religion magnifies the fear of the unknown. It cloaks this anxiety in the fear of evil spirits and hell. The fear of imaginary enemies is just as viable as fear of falling, drowning, being attacked by snakes, spiders, or animals. The fear of the afterlife becomes a phobia. And people will cling to their fear again because it produces the addictive response in the brain. So fear is addictive and nothing generates more fear than the unknown.
The only way to handle this is to find out how to face fear of death. It is the experience of the “dark night of the soul” that has been a catalyst of the all-time money-making scheme, the afterlife.
Beliefs about life after death or the afterlife are a part of our cultural narrative. People who do not follow a religion, or believe the existence of higher power, still have beliefs about what happens when you die.
How do you approach this subject?
How to Remove Fear of Death Magnified By Religion
1) One way is to understand your approach to the subject of a higher power. This imaginary friend is the linchpin which upholds all the harmful religious baggage.
2) Another approach is to use comparative analysis to trace the source of your sacred ground. Comparative analysis is a step-by-step process of comparative religious study. It forces you to look at the true sources of your beliefs.
3) A good process for facing anxiety of any kind is what we call exploring memories. Here, you search for positive and negative memories. Then you look at how these memories link to emotions. This can be an emotional roller-coaster because many of our memories get tangled up with a variety of good and bad emotions. Sorting these emotions out takes some work.
“The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life, but as an aspect of life. Life in its becoming is always shedding death, and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life. That is the cardinal initiation of every heroic adventure – fearlessness and achievement.” — Joseph Campbell
Part of this process uses a technique called the repeating question. Here, you take the memory and ask yourself, what does it mean? You keep asking, and record what comes to the surface. You will be surprised at what emotions a memory can hold once you dig past the superficial elements.
4) Finally, the process we call breaking the patterns of thought and behavior. This exercise focuses on dissecting our self-talk. Our fears are reflected in our thought patterns. Identifying and fixing these negative triggers stops you from sliding into anxiety.
4) Increased Social Interaction
Before the pandemic, a great number of people had social phobias. The pandemic increased the suffering of those who already had social fears and added more people to the ranks. It makes learning how to face fear of death a necessity. Can you relate?
Social interaction is also necessary to develop and maintain a healthy mindset. Children deprived of loving contact develop unhealthy coping skills. If these aren’t identified early, they follow into adolescence and adulthood. Here, the lack to proper social acclimation can lead to narcissism and other anti-social disorders.
Healthy social curiosity is the way we learn to care and share. Developing healthy friendships reduces our overall anxiety about the uncertainties of life, which includes the fear of death. (4)
Terror management theory (TMT) explains (5) how we develop strategies to shield us from the anxiety of our mortality. TMT is based on the works of Ernest Becker (1962; 1973; 1975) (6). He theorized we develop these coping mechanisms early in life, mirroring the tactics of our family.
A healthy family provides a community in which the individual is valued. It is this intrinsic value of self that shields us from the terror of our demise. People can face great dangers when they live for a higher cause. We learn we receive affection and praise when we follow the rules. If we don’t, we face punishment. The terror of failing to follow the rules is the terror of failure.
Increasing our social interaction provides a support system of people with shared life experiences. And, healthy social relationship boost our self-value. These two elements are the foundation of TMT, which can eliminate stress. They also reduce the anxiety related to mortality.
The use of virtual communications is one way to increase social interaction without increasing the fears associated with the pandemic. (7)
(1) The Laughter Prescription: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125057/
(2) The Biology of Fear: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3595162/
(3) Overcoming a Fear of Religion in Social Work Education and Practice: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15426430802644214
(4) Social curiosity as a way to overcome death anxiety: perspective of terror management theory: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7078517/
(5) Terror management theory or management theory: A theory: A theoretical perspective ethical perspective on origination, maintenance, and research: https://scholar.utc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1340&context=mps
(6) Ernest Becker: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Becker
(7) My life became more meaningful: confronting one’s own end of life and its effects on well-being-a qualitative study: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35484588/