The Fear of Dying & What to Do About It

Updated October 31, 2018
worried girl

If the thought of death makes you nervous or prompts feelings of anxiety, you're not alone - around 20 percent of Americans report having a profound fear of dying. Facing this fear is important since everyone's story ends the same way.

Why Am I Scared to Die?

Death impacts everyone differently. No matter where you live in the world, or what your culture dictates, fear of dying is thought to be a universal, innate aspect of being human.

Painful Death

For many, the idea of dying, in general, may feel fine, but the thought of dying in a painful way brings up a lot of anxiety. One study examined the difference in how individuals who had a terminal illness dealt with the reality of death and how healthy individuals perceived dying. The research revealed that the folks whose death was imminent typically had more positively written journal entries in comparison to those who were just imagining death but who were in good health.

This same study also revealed that the last words of death row inmates were again more positive than those who were merely imagining they were saying their last words. So, even in the face of execution, the inmates tended to be more positively inclined than non-prisoners.

Fear of Unknown

This common fear can become incredibly difficult to manage when it comes to the subject of death. Many people worry about what will happen to them, their families and their possessions after they die. Others may wonder about whether or not there is an afterlife and what that will be like. The fear of the unknown is noted for being one of the most fundamental of human fears, as it may be rooted in our innate survival methods. When coupled with death, this fear can become unbearable for some.

Terminal Illness


If health issues run in your family, it is not uncommon to think about how these illnesses may impact you one day. The reality of having a terminal illness is certainly different than merely thinking about having one. Many studies illustrate that most patients with a terminal illness are more concerned with how their illness is impacting their families versus hyper-focusing on dying. Fears of feeling like a burden often outweigh the intensity of the fear of dying. For some, death may seem like a welcomed relief from feeling like a burden to others.

Running Out of Time

Many people fear not having enough time to accomplish what they want and be present during important life milestones. This could mean not enough time to reach their career or personal goals. Many folks dream of traveling one day, starting a family and watching them grow up, as well as reaching a certain point in their academic field or workplace. This fear can go hand in hand with death anxiety, as many folks feel nervous about not using their remaining time in a valuable way.

Unfinished Business

Many people feel anxious about not being prepared for their death and what will happen to those they leave behind. It's common for people near death to report feeling like loose ends need to be tied up before passing on. For many, this means accomplishing what they set out to do. It can also mean making sure everything is in order for the memorial service and that their family is taken care of after they pass away.

Dying Alone

The fear of being alone is terrifying to some folks, but dying alone can feel even more frightening. Many people fear that they will be isolated, lonely and without loved ones when they are close to dying. It is human nature to want to be connected and in tune to loved ones, so dying can automatically bring up these isolating feelings and stir up some anxiety.

Why Should I Confront Death?

There are many ways to work through the anxiety that comes with dying or the thought of dying. If you're told you are dying, you may experience emotions such as grief, confusion, anger, frustration, sadness, denial and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Know that what you are experiencing is normal, and there are tools to use to better process the notion of death, whether it is imminent or a general fear. Why is this important? It can ease the fears associated with dying.

Palliative Care

attending patients

If you currently have a serious illness, you may want to look into palliative care. This can provide some extra assistance when it comes to managing your illness and is normally administered at a local facility or hospital. This type of care can be received at any point in your illness and can provide relief, pain management and support from doctors, nurses and other helpful staff members.

Hospice Care

If you have a terminal illness or have been given about 6 months to live, hospice care might be a helpful option. Hospice care is typically administered in the comfort of your own home, with the focus on making your remaining time as pain free and enjoyable as possible.

Professional Therapy

Speak with a counselor about your fear of dying and ways you can work through it. Many dying fears come from existing incidents that occurred, while others may just be a thought that you cannot seem to get out of your mind. Either way, research has pointed to a high level of success when therapists use cognitive behavioral methods to assist people in working through these fears.

Positive Affirmations

Focusing on your goals in life when you are feeling low can help encourage you to move forward and enjoy what life has to offer. Give yourself some positive affirmations when it comes to processing your thoughts on death as a reminder that it is okay to think about death and that you also have meaningful moments in life to continue experiencing.

Embrace Mindfulness

group therapy

Approach death with mindfulness. Mindfulness creates the space to explore yourself in a healthy way, even when it comes to processing your fears of dying.

Support Group

Join a local or national death anxiety support group. Death anxiety support groups have been noted for helping dying patients reduce their depressive symptoms by providing a supportive environment where people can openly process their emotions, fears, and hopes.

Understanding Your Fear

It is common to fear dying in general, specific types of dying, and imminent deaths. While these fears are universal, there are some helpful resources and exercises that can provide relief whether you have a generalized fear of dying or are terminally ill. Take comfort in knowing that most studies suggest that the idea of dying is perceived as worse than what dying is actually like for those going through the process.

The Fear of Dying & What to Do About It