What is death phobia?

fear of death–sometimes called death anxiety –is the extreme fear of death. This condition was first mentioned by Sigmund Freud in 1915 and is thought to be related to an unconscious belief in immortality (the ability to live forever).

Many people have uncertain feelings about death. However, death phobia can cause fear of death, which can interfere with daily life. This situation may include fear of your own death, the death process, or the death of someone you care about.

This article discusses the phobia of death – the symptoms, diagnosis, causes and treatment of this condition.

What are the symptoms of death phobia?

Symptoms of death phobia occur when you are forced to think or face your fears. For example, you may experience fear and anxiety in situations related to death and dying—such as in the hospital, reading an obituary, or hearing about someone dying.

Whether it’s in real life or in a story — like a book you’ve read, a show you’ve watched, or a movie you’ve watched, you may find yourself avoiding the subject of death.

Death phobia can lead to panic attacks when you are faced with fear. Symptoms of a panic attack may include:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • sweat
  • dry mouth
  • increased heart rate
  • shake
  • nausea
  • headache
  • irritability
  • Feel like you need to “escape” the situation
  • Feeling out of control or powerless

Child Death Anxiety

Children may also experience a phobia of death, but the symptoms look more like defiant behavior than typical anxiety symptoms. Children may avoid phobias by rejecting instructions at home or in other settings such as school. Other behaviors may include tantrums, crying, and physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pains.

Unlike adults with death anxiety, children cannot understand that their fears are irrational.

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Causes of death anxiety

The exact cause of death phobia is unknown, but a variety of factors can increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder.

  • Trauma: Phobias can arise from personal trauma or near-death experiences, or from hearing others talk about their traumatic experiences.
  • Environment: Children who grow up with anxious or overprotective parents may develop death anxiety.
  • History of abuse: People who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused are more likely to develop phobias.
  • Death of a parent: Death anxiety can arise after a person experiences the death of a parent.
  • Divorce: Children of separated or divorced parents are at increased risk of death phobia.
  • Religious Teachings: Certain religions teach people that they will be punished after death for the way they live. This can lead to a fear of death.
  • Age: Death phobia often occurs in middle-aged people. At this stage of life, a person begins to experience the death of friends, parents, and siblings. Death anxiety actually decreases as a person gets older.
  • Chronic disease: People with chronic disease are more likely to have a phobia of death, especially if the disease is incurable.

Diagnosis of fear of death

Death phobia can be classified as a “specific phobia,” which is an anxiety disorder that includes Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). This booklet provides information on specific criteria used to help diagnose mental health conditions.

Specific phobias have the following diagnostic criteria:

  • Symptoms persist for more than 6 months
  • The object of the phobia (such as death) causes immediate fear or anxiety
  • Symptoms that interfere with daily functioning
  • Fear is disproportionate to the actual danger associated with the feared object
  • The object of the phobia is avoided or suffers from extreme fear and anxiety

Treat death phobia

Therapy is very important in treating death phobia. Medications are also sometimes used to control anxiety symptoms.


Therapy is the mainstay of treatment for phobias such as death phobia. The most effective type of treatment for this condition is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT treatment of death phobia focuses on identifying behaviors, thoughts, and feelings about death and dying, and changing negative thinking patterns.

Exposure therapy is a specific type of CBT that has been found to be successful in treating phobias. This type of therapy involves gradual exposure to the object of your fear while addressing anxiety symptoms through positive self-talk and relaxation techniques.

Sometimes therapy isn’t possible to expose you to your specific phobia in real life. However, virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) has also been shown to be an effective treatment for specific phobias.


Medications cannot directly treat death phobia, but they can help reduce the anxiety symptoms that occur in this condition.

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are commonly used to treat anxiety caused by phobias. However, it can take weeks or even months for these drugs to show improvement in symptoms.

Examples include:

  • Zoloft (Sertraline)
  • Lexap (Escitalopram)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Effects (Venlafaxine)
  • Celexa (citalopram)

Benzodiazepines are another type of medication used to treat phobias. These medicines work quickly and are taken when you experience symptoms caused by your condition. These drugs can be addictive and have side effects, including fatigue.

Examples include:

  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • sand star (Alprazolam)
  • Stable (Diazepam)
  • Kronopin (clonazepam)

Tips for Coping with Death Anxiety

The best way to deal with a fear of death is to seek treatment. However, you can use other coping strategies to deal with anxiety. These include:

  • Use deep breathing techniques when feeling anxious
  • exercise regularly
  • practice mindfulness
  • enough sleep
  • avoid caffeine
  • eat a healthy diet
  • make time for hobbies
  • Share your fears with close friends and family

How to Cope with Anxiety: Tips That Can Help


Death phobia is an irrational fear of death. This condition can lead to severe anxiety symptoms when faced with the topic of death or the process of dying. Symptoms may include chest pain/pressure, sweating, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, nausea, and a feeling of weakness.

Death phobia can arise from previous trauma, history of abuse, and other environmental factors. The treatment of death phobia mainly consists of treatment. Coping strategies and sometimes medication can help reduce anxiety symptoms.

VigorTip words

Living with an anxiety disorder like death phobia can feel isolating, but the truth is, it’s common all over the world. Ignoring your symptoms won’t make them go away. Proactively discuss treatments and other treatment options with your healthcare provider to reduce your overall anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is death phobia?

    Specific phobias, including phobias of death, affect approximately 8% of the U.S. population each year.

  • Is death phobia the same as death phobia?

    Death phobia is the irrational fear of death, while mortal phobia is the fear of death or the corpse.

  • Why can’t I stop thinking about death?

    Intrusive thoughts about death can be a symptom of a phobia, anxiety, or other mental health condition. Discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider.

  • How do I talk to someone about my fear of death?

    Talking to a therapist can help you deal with your fear of death. Ask your healthcare provider for advice, or use the online directory.