Feeling scared to die is normal – and even healthy. If humans weren’t afraid of death, we wouldn’t have survived for so long! But if your fear of dying is getting in the way of living a peaceful, joyful life then you’re not “just” scared to die. You’re obsessed with death, and it’s stopping you from being happy and healthy.
“Hopefully, one day you can discuss anxiety and fear of dying,” said Sophia on 3 Ways to Find Peace When You’re Anxious and Afraid. “Lately I have been suffering from thoughts of death. I’m scared to die and have noticed more people feeling the same way. Why is this happening? Why are we feeling like this? What can we do to overcome fear of death?”
Sophia is right: more and more people are thinking about death and dying. Most of us are scared to die, for a variety of different reasons.
I was scared to die until I was diagnosed with a chronic disease (ulcerative colitis) when I was 27 years old. I thought it was a death sentence! I didn’t think I’d see my 30th birthday. That deadly diagnosis forced me to face my fear of death and the dying process. It was a terrible, scary and depressing time.
That’s when I learned two secrets to overcoming fear of death:
- Figure out the root cause of the fear and anxiety (eg, are you scared to meet God face-to-face? Are you worried about leaving your kids or parents? Are you terrified of the unknown? Are you scared to die because you can’t stand being alone?).
- Practice replacing your anxiety with faith, hope, and freedom.
When I was diagnosed with colitis I’d already booked and planned a trip to Jerusalem, Israel. My doctor advised me not to go but I went anyway. I found a little church right inside the walls of the Old City; I sat in that church once or twice a day for over a week. I prayed, cried, and just sat with God. I asked Jesus Christ how to pray for healing. I soaked up the light, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit.
And then, after about a week of wrestling with my fears and anxieties, fear of death lost its grip. I realized that dying was the beginning of something greater, deeper and more powerful than my life in this world. God became more real than ever. And slowly – as I untangled my emotions and faced my own death with fear and trembling – I begin to feel lighter. “Fear not,” said Jesus. “I’m with you now and always,” whispered the Holy Spirit. And I was filled with light, strength, courage, power and freedom. I was alive.
Now I’m not scared to die. I’ll be 50 years old in a few months, and I know that the best is yet to come. Maybe I won’t see my fiftieth birthday, or maybe I’ll live to celebrate my 100th! I don’t care. Either way, I’m grateful for every breath and I don’t live in fear.
What if death is better than life? What if the people who have passed are happier and more whole than they’ve ever been? Our life here on earth isn’t all sunshine and roses…but maybe death is.
6 Ways to Stop Being Scared to Die
In Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, Anita Moorjani describes how Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, chemotherapy, and her near-death experience (NDE) changed her perspective of life, dying, and death.
“Even though I seemed to be fighting my disease, I believed that cancer was a death sentence,” writes Anita. “I went through the motions of doing everything I could, but in the back of my mind, I still believed that I wasn’t going to make it. And I was very, very scared of death.”
1. Face your death – because that is where your peace and healing is
“When I was in that state of clarity in the other realm [during her near-death experience], I instinctively understood that I was dying because of all my fears,” writes Anita in Dying to Be Me. “When I relinquished my hold on physical life, I didn’t feel I needed to do anything in particular to enter the other realm, such as pray, chant, use mantras, forgiveness, or any other technique. Moving on was closer to doing absolutely nothing. It seemed more like saying to no one in particular: ‘Okay, I have nothing more to give. I surrender. Take me. Do what you will with me. Have your way.”
Surrendering to God – not your fear of dying or death itself, but God’s presence in your life – is the only way to stop being scared to die. When you know Jesus and feel the power of the Holy Spirit, you have nothing to fear. You may feel pain, grief and the weight of this world…but you aren’t afraid anymore.
2. Take time to face your fear of death and dying
Fear of death is one of the most common, primal fears we have. Most humans are scared to die. Animals avoid death and suffering, but don’t spend hours, days or years feeling afraid to die. Ironically, we don’t even know what happens after death! How can we be so afraid of something we know nothing about? Death could be the best thing to ever happen to us. Death might be life’s best-kept secret.
It takes time, patience, and courage to talk about and feel your fear of death with God. But if you show up every day and talk to Him about how you feel – if you open your heart to the Holy Spirit – you will find peace. You will be filled with love, freedom, and healing.
If you don’t believe in God, you might need more practical tips on how to cope when you’re scared to die. Writing 20 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Someone Terminally Ill or Dying helped me see death in a different way; maybe it’ll help reduce your fear and anxiety.
3. Focus on awe and wonder
I’m more afraid of being sucked into the superficial, meaningless, trivial parts of life than I am of dying! I know someone who vacuums her house every day, and someone else who has to buy a new pair shoes every month. Since I accepted my own death, I stopped caring about the superficial, unimportant stuff that we tend to caught up in.
Here’s what Anita says in Dying to Be Me: “I’ll never again take on a job I don’t enjoy just for the money. My criteria for work and for doing things in general are so different now. My life and my time here are much more valuable to me.” If that doesn’t help you with accepting your death, what will?
4. Discover what death research says about life
“Death is a very powerful motivation,” says Laura Blackie, a Ph.D. student at the University of Essex. “People seem aware that their life is limited. That can be one of the best gifts that we have in life, motivating us to embrace life and embrace goals that are important to us.”
Her research revealed that accepting death improves the quality and depth of life. One way to stop being scared to die is to learn what the research says about people who face their own deaths. How do they feel, think, and behave when they’re dying? The more you avoid thinking about your fear of death, the worse and stronger those fears become. Facing and moving through your fears will bring peace and freedom.
5. Learn what it feels like to be close to death
I found a fascinating new study on what it’s like to be close to dying. The researchers found good news! The actual emotional impact of dying is more positive and less negative than people expect. We think dying is all about pain and suffering, and we worry that we’ll face the end of our lives alone.
But the truth is that people who are close to death actually use more positive words (such as love, joy, happiness, and peace) than negative ones. “When we imagine our emotions as we approach death, we think mostly of sadness and terror,” says psychological scientist Kurt Gray of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But it turns out that dying is less sad and terrifying – and happier – than you think.”
Part of their study involved researching blog posts from people who were terminally ill and inmates on death row. These people who were literally facing imminent death used more “positive emotion” words and fewer “negative emotion” words than people who simply imagined they were dying. These death researchers also found that the dying person’s use of positive emotion words increased as they neared death, but their negative emotion words did not.
The research paper is called Emotions Expressed by the Dying are Unexpectedly Positive, published in Psychological Science.
6. Get help accepting your fear of death
I learned how to stop being scared to die by spending time with God. I’m more excited to meet Him – and scared! awed! amazed! – than I am of dying. I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence, and follow Jesus Christ.
Can you get still, be quiet, and sit in God’s presence? Can you open your heart to the Holy Spirit? Do you know the sound of Jesus Christ’s voice calling you? He is calling. That’s why you’re here. You’re scared to die because you haven’t experienced life yet. And that life is God.
If you don’t feel God’s presence, you might find it helpful to read Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Dr Eben Alexander. He’s a highly trained neurosurgeon who had a near-death experience after his brain was attacked by a rare illness.
The part of his brain that controls thought and emotion shut down completely. For seven days Dr Alexander lay in a coma. Then, as his doctors considered stopping treatment, his eyes popped open. He came back!
Dr Alexander’s recovery is a medical miracle. But the real miracle of his story lis that he says he journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself. Reading his story can help with accepting your death – or the death of someone who has already passed.
What do you think? Read the comments below; share how you feel. You might even finish this sentence: “I’m scared to die because _________.” Writing your fears and anxieties can be helpful…but God is the true healer. Write to Him. Look up and meet His gaze. Know that you have nothing to fear…and leap into His arms.