If you are afraid of death, take courage and keep reading.
Death anxiety is the fear we experience when contemplating or facing our own mortality. Like much of our anxiety, it is an anticipation of pain and loss, but this anxiety is different for one poignant reason. While many things we are anxious about will never happen, our passing from this world seems to be a sure thing.
Though not a pleasant concept to consider, death anxiety is the root of many emotional and psychological problems, possibly all of them. Mortality is an influential undercurrent in everyone's life whether ignored or faced.
Sometimes events force us to make eye contact with death. It could be a tragedy or a birthday. The subject surfaces at different times in our lives, and runs deep at others.
Why Look At This Terrorising Topic
Research has shown that in East Asian cultures, life and death have the relationship of yin and yang, meaning they are inseparable. In consequence, a shocking event or contemplation of death influences Easterners to enjoy life to the fullest.
In the West, death is perceived as the loss of all we hold dear. What is precious we know will be taken away. This explains why Westerners, when faced with mortality, tend to become narrow minded, nationalistic, and defensive.
While the Eastern perspective results in living with gusto, the Western perception causes us to hunker down in mental and emotional bunkers. This is why talking about mortality, though uncomfortable for most of us, is important.
The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom said, "Though death cannot be avoided, confronting the fact that you will die has rewards, namely that people who can do it tend to become calmer, more centered and aware, and more able to ignore distractions and anxieties and focus on what is truly important (e.g., loving relationships)."
The Effects of Death Defying Defensiveness
Think about what people do when they become narrow and defensive.
- Keep themselves from anxiety-stirring situations.
- Become angry, go on the offensive, and lash out even when there is no present danger.
- Realize they cannot remedy the situation so attempt to control almost everything else.
- Realize there is nothing they can do and feel worthless or helpless.
- Repress their emotions in an attempt to avoid pain and anxiety.
- Consider anything or anyone different from themselves as being dangerous.
- Hold on to others (with a death grip) to be safe.
It seems monumentally ironic that if any of our defenses become too uncomfortable or unbearable we may resort to the thing we fear most to end our pain. However, when life is that unbearable we may feel there is nothing to lose.
Anyone with symptoms of anxiety or depression will likely see themselves in the list of defenses. It is time to get a conversation going with our selves, family, friends, or a counselor, about our perception of mortality so we can better enjoy the life we have.
Nuys, David PhD. 2008. An Interview with Irvin Yalom. http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=28821&cn=91
Jacobs, Tom. 2012. Eastern Philosophy Eases Death Anxiety, http://www.psmag.com/culture-society/eastern-philosophy-eases-death-anxi...