— What It Is and What Causes It

By Mandy Baker

Thanatophobia is the fear of death or the dying process. Death or dying is a typical concern in society. However, those with thanatophobia worry about it more often to the extent it affects their daily lives. This article will define thanatophobia. It will also discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatments for this phobia.

What is thanatophobia?

The American Psychological Association defines thanatophobia as a persistent and irrational fear of death or dying. This fear can either focus on yourself or the death of loved ones.

Studies have shown that people with older parents often project their own fears of death onto them. However, the same study showed that older parents are less likely to have this fear themselves. Thanatophobia can affect anyone. However, it does appear to peak in middle age and then taper off in older adulthood.

The fear of death and dying is a natural presence in life. However, those with thanatophobia experience it more severely. People with phobias typically avoid situations that might cause them fear or anxiety. Research has shown that thanatophobia may increase a person’s avoidance when it comes to social anxiety.

What are the symptoms of thanatophobia?

The main symptom of thanatophobia is the psychological fear of death and dying. It is more than just your typical worry about death — a phobia generally affects your day-to-day life.

Many people with a phobia, such as thanatophobia, experience panic attacks. Along with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, panic attacks tend to also include physical symptoms, which can include:

If you are experiencing thanatophobia, you may also find that you avoid certain social situations that cause you anxiety.

Learn more about panic attacks and anxiety.

What causes thanatophobia?

Health experts do not know what precisely causes thanatophobia. However, many believe that unresolved psychological or physical distress can play a major role in the development of death anxiety.

Thanatophobia appears to be more common in those who have:

  • low self-esteem
  • no religious beliefs
  • health issues
  • no sense of fulfillment in their life
  • little to no intimacy with loved ones
  • little to no determination to overcome difficulties in life

Other factors that may contribute to the development of thanatophobia are anxiety, depressive symptoms, and your belief about what happens after death.

How do you treat thanatophobia?

Though many phobias are curable, there is no one treatment for them. However, treatment typically includes a combination of:

  • therapy
  • medication
  • self-help techniques


Psychotherapy is typically an effective treatment for phobias. One of the main types of psychotherapy that mental healthcare professionals use to treat phobias is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on helping you to change your behaviors and the way you think. It can help you learn and develop ways to help manage your phobia. One type of CBT, exposure therapy, can help manage phobias by gradually increasing the level of exposure to your fear. This then allows you to gain control over your phobia.


Healthcare professionals do not always recommend medication to treat phobias. However, your doctor may prescribe them on a short-term basis to treat the anxiety or other symptoms that typically accompany phobias.

Medications that your doctor may recommend include:

  • antidepressants
  • tranquilizers
  • beta-blockers


Certain lifestyle changes may help you manage phobia symptoms, such as panic attacks. These changes may include:

  • getting regular exercise
  • eating regularly
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • getting enough sleep
  • reducing your intake of caffeine or other stimulants

Other self-help techniques include:

  • Relaxation techniques: Involve physical exercises that can help you relax and control your breathing.
  • Visualization: This combines relaxation techniques with a mental visualization of how you can successfully manage situations that cause you anxiety.
  • Self-help groups: This is a way to meet others with similar experiences, where you can share ways of coping with your phobias.


Thanatophobia is an intense and persistent fear of death or the process of dying. Typically, the anxiety that comes from a phobia will affect your day-to-day life.

People with phobias often experience panic attacks and avoid situations that may cause them anxiety.

Thanatophobia is treatable with a combination of therapy and self-help techniques. Your doctor may also recommend medications to help you manage symptoms such as anxiety.

If you feel you are experiencing thanatophobia that is affecting your daily life, contact your doctor or mental healthcare professional.

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