Thanatophobia is a rare phobia 1https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399918306202 and one that can arise following regular exposure to death and trauma. Also known as death anxiety, is an extreme fear of death—one’s own or that of a loved one. Most people fear their demise to some extent, but this phobia can have such a great influence on your life that it can cause you to have panic attacks and stop you from leading a full and happy life.
What Triggers Thanatophobia and What Are Its Symptoms?
The triggers for this condition are varied and can include visiting the hospital, hearing about someone who has died, or facing an illness (your own or someone you care about). Those who have this phobia tend to avoid discussing or encountering death, both in real life and in fiction. The symptoms of this phobia are very similar to those of a typical panic attack. The person may have trouble breathing, they may feel pain in their chest, their heart rate may rise, and they may have nausea, headaches, or dry mouth. They may sweat, shake, and feel like they want to escape from the situation.
What are the Causes of Thanatophobia?
Thanatophobia does not have a defined cause but many experiences are thought to increase one’s likelihood of developing it. These include trauma, which a person does not have to experience themselves. Sometimes, just hearing about trauma or being close to a trauma-related event can trigger death anxiety. As per research published in Emergency Nurse, nurses working in emergency settings have a heightened risk of thanatophobia, since they are exposed to death 2https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150710123648.htm and severe injuries on a regular basis. It is recommended that nurses and nursing students take part in death education programs, to help them understand their beliefs about death. They should also be assessed using a trauma risk-management tool. Finally, staff should be rotated so that they are not over-exposed to mortality cues.
Additional Causes of Thanatophobia
In addition to trauma, other causes of thanatophobia are chronic illness, the death of a parent, having parents who separate or are divorced, being raised by anxious parents or those favoring a ‘helicopter parenting style’, being middle-aged, and having a history of abuse. Some religions also espouse that eternal punishment exists for those who have behaved badly. Those who are plagued by thoughts of such punishment may develop thanatophobia.
What Current Treatments Are Available for Thanatophobia?
As is the case with most phobias, two types of treatment are currently considered the ‘gold standard’ for this phobia. They are cognitive behavioral therapy/CBT (which helps people identify the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors about death that can trigger thanatophobia) and exposure therapy. The latter involves gradually exposing a person to the source of their fears. In some cases, psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants or benzodiazepines (which are used to treat anxiety).
Thanatophobia is a term first coined by Sigmund Freud. It involves having a severe fear of death. This phobia can be triggered by trauma and abuse. Treatments for thanatophobia inclube CBT, exposure therapy, and medication.
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