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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Fear and Anxiety

Death Anxiety and Death Awareness

A diagnosis of an autoimmune disease is not a death sentence. So, do not create for yourself undue fear and anxiety.

Death anxiety is fear of death. It is fear of the pain of dying, fear of the separation from loved ones, and fear of the unknown.

The level of death anxiety is determined by the following factors:

Projected inability to fulfill certain life goals in the past, often accompanied by regret

Perceived inability to accomplish certain life goals in the future, such as work undone, relationship and business unfinished, or lifelong dreams unrealized

Interpretation of the meanings of death, such as life after death, or death as an escape from pain and misery.
But, irrespective of the level, death anxiety is unhealthy, because it robs you of the joy of living in the present moment; if you are afraid to die, you may also be afraid to live—and thus depriving yourself of happiness in living.

A Case in Point

In the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan, which has been named “the happiest country on Earth”, people there contemplate death five times a day as part of their Buddhist tradition, as well as their Bhutanese culture.

Daily death awareness, surprisingly, is instrumental in eliminating death anxiety.

Conventional Wisdom

Surprisingly, regular contemplation of death can indeed lead to a deep experience of joy, because old attachments and negative habits are released during the contemplation. But most of us in the West are terrified of death, and avoid addressing it unless absolutely necessary.

The contemporary neuroscience concept says that what “fires together, wires together”; therefore, it is important to couple dismal thoughts of death with a sense of physical and emotional calmness, rather than just contemplating the fear and the anxiety of death alone. The objective is that in future whenever the thought of death comes up, the brain will also automatically and simultaneously recall the calm feeling. 

According to pioneer researcher and Harvard professor Laura Kubzansky, some of the human characteristics, such as resilience, positive outlook on life, and a sense of meaning and purpose, may lead to increased happiness, as well as better health and longer life.

The Realities

For all human efforts, death will come in the end for all and sundry. This is an indisputable fact. No matter how long a life you may want to live, you will, like everyone else, face dying one day. This is the way of all flesh because you have a built-in mechanism in your genes to ensure human mortality.

However, the way you look at the ultimate end may make a difference in how you are going to live out the rest of your life, or how you are going to face your own inevitable end. Many people simply do not want to ponder on this problem; they believe that they will know what to do when death is at the door. The reality is that thinking about this ponderous problem does not make you feel more pessimistic; quite the contrary, it may give you greater strength by knowing what you will do when the inevitable end comes.

Overcoming Death Fear

Deep breathing can help you overcome fear of death because it triggers the relaxation response mentally, physically, and emotionally. You can also enhance your five senses with peaceful music, a scented candle, flavorful tea, beautiful art, or even a view of nature.

Instead of being obsessed with worry and anxiety of your own death, which might create undue stress, contemplate the cycle of life and death that exists in Nature as well as throughout the entire universe. Focus on the opportunities that still exist in your life—today and each day—to savor the moments of pleasure and happiness.  Embrace, savor, and appreciate all the good that still exists in each day as life unfolds.

In life, you face both good and bad news. The bad news is that one day you are going to die, just like everyone else. The good news is that you can use your anticipated death to spur you to make the most of each and every day you live, starting today and every day thereafter until there are no more days left. 

The bottom line: thinking about death for a few minutes every day may cure you of the devastating fear of death that causes the unhappiness that troubles many people today, especially the elderly.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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