Is death the root of all anxiety?
Late last year, Erica Jong published a book called 'Fear of Dying'. I thought it interesting that Jong, whose 'Fear of Flying' tackled a lot of sexual taboos had now turned her attention to one of the last remaining taboos in our society - death. Around this time, a famous singer in the UK spoke about her anxiety around death in an interview, triggering much talk in the media about this hitherto undiscussed topic. Had death become 'the new sex'?
Death anxiety, or to give its clinical name, Thanatophobia, is not unusual. Indeed, some level of it is hardwired into our DNA. Our ancestors formed groups and lived collectively primarily out of a fear of separateness and what might be lurking in the dark. The fear of death in those times was very real when every day could be a battle for survival. Now, with cctv on most street corners, our loved ones seemingly always present through digital communication surely we have no need to worry about our imminent demise? Actually I think it's the opposite.
Once our basic needs have been fulfilled - most of us, at least in the west, have more than enough food and comfort to keep us satisfied - we start to address the bigger questions. Why are we here? What's it all for? Does it all end when I die? You could call it existential angst and behind it is a fear of death. However, to be anxious about one's demise, ultimately, is to fear life in itself as one cannot separate one from the other. Existential theorists would argue that at the root of all anxiety is ultimately a fear of death. Whether or not you agree with that (and for me the jury is still out), I would argue that confronting this question and grappling with it is the first step to creating meaning in our lives.
Working with a trusted psychotherapist can really help to delve deep beneath your anxiety to see what's lurking there, whether it's a fear of death or actually of life itself.
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About Hilda Burke
Hilda Burke is a West London based integrative psychotherapist, couples counsellor and life coach, working with clients on a range of issues, including anxiety, relationships, bereavement, infertility, addiction and depression. She trained at CCPE and has a diploma in counselling and psychotherapy and a postgraduate certificate in dreamwork.