How to Overcome the Fear of Death, Part 2

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Letting Go of What You Can’t Control

 

1

Focus on what you can control. Death can be an especially frightening thing to think about, primarily because it exposes the limits of life and what we are able to conceive. Learn to focus on what you can actually control while still engaging with what you cannot.

  • For example, you may be worried about dying from a heart attack. There are certain factors that you can’t control about heart disease, such as family history, race and ethnicity, and age. You will make yourself more anxious by focusing on these things. Instead, it’s far healthier to focus on the things you can control, like quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating well. In fact, you are at higher risk for heart disease when you have an unhealthy lifestyle than just by the uncontrollable factors alone.[8]

2

Guide your life. When we want to control the direction of our lives, we are often met with disappointment, frustration and anxiety about things that don’t go as planned. Learn to loosen your grip on how tightly you control the outcomes of your life. You can still make plans, of course. Guide the course of your life. But allow some room for the unexpected.[9]

  • A fitting analogy is the idea of water flowing in a river. Sometimes the river bank will change, the river will curve, and the water will slow down or speed up. The river is still flowing, but you have to let it go where it takes you.

3

Eliminate unproductive thought patterns. When you try to predict or imagine the future, you find yourself asking, “What if this happens?” This is an unproductive thought pattern known as catastrophizing.[10] An unproductive thought pattern is a way of thinking about a situation that ultimately causes you to have negative emotions. How we interpret an event will result in the emotion we feel from it. For example, if you are worried that you’re late for work, you might tell yourself, “If I’m late, I will get reprimanded by my boss and I’ll lose my job.” Having unproductive thought patterns can put you on edge if you feel like you want to control the outcome so strongly.

  • Replace unproductive thinking with positive thinking. Reason through your unproductive thought patterns. For example, say to yourself, “If I’m late, my boss might get mad. But I can explain that there was more traffic than normal. I’ll also offer to stay late after work to make up the time.”

4

Have a worry time period. Devote five minutes during the day when you will allow yourself to worry about something. Do this at the same time every day. Try not to schedule this worry period for bedtime, because you don’t want to lay in bed fretting over things. If you have a worrying thought any other time during the day, save it for your worry time period. [11]

5

Challenge your anxious thoughts. If you are struck with anxieties about death, ask yourself about the chances of dying in certain scenarios. Arm yourself with statistics about dying in a plane crash, for example. You will likely find that your worries are inflated beyond the reality of what could possibly happen. [12]

6

Think about how you’re affected by others. When other people’s worries start taking over your mind, you’ll think more about risks too. Perhaps you have a friend who is particularly negative about diseases and illnesses. This causes you to feel nervous about getting ill yourself. Limit time you spend with this person so that these thoughts don’t enter into your head so frequently. [13]

7

Try something you’ve never done before. We often avoid trying new things and putting ourselves in new situations precisely because of fears regarding what we do not yet know or cannot yet understand.[14] In order to practice letting go of control, pick an activity you’d never consider doing and commit to giving it a try. Start by doing some research on it online. Next, maybe talk to people who have participated in the activity before. As you start to become more comfortable with the idea of it, see if you can’t give it a try once or twice before making an especially long commitment to it.

  • This method of experimenting with life and new activities can be a great tool for learning how to focus on producing joy in life as opposed to worrying about death and dying.
  • As you participate in new activities, you will likely learn a lot about yourself, especially in regard to what you can and cannot control.

8

Develop an end-of-life plan with your family and friends. When it comes to death, you will likely come to realize that most of the process will be completely out of your control. There’s no way we can ever know for sure exactly when or where we can die, but we can take some steps so as to become more prepared. [15]

  • If you are in coma, for example, how long would you want to remain on life support? Do you prefer to pass in your home or remain in the hospital as long as possible?
  • It might be uncomfortable about these issues with your loved ones at first talking, but such conversations can be incredibly helpful for both you and them if an unfortunate event arises and you are unable to express your desires in the moment. Such discussions might potentially help you feel a little less anxious towards death.

Look for Part 1 HERE!

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