How Death Acceptance Can Help Relieve Your Anxiety

By The Fix staff 01/11/21

Accepting that death is part of the normal cycle of life can help alleviate stress during the pandemic.

Man standing alone, looking out over the water
Those who accept death have much better mental health than those who are afraid of it.

To date, more than half a million Americans have died from the novel coronavirus. That’s a shocking number, especially considering that most of the deaths have been in the past six months. It’s enough to send anyone into a spiral of fear and anxiety.

That’s why Geoff Thompson, PhD, program director for Sunshine Coast Health Centre in British Columbia, says accepting death can make it easier to deal with the grim news about the pandemic.

“Those who accept death have much better mental health than those who are afraid of it,” Thompson says.

Death as a Part of Life

Death is the one certainty in life. We’re all going to die at some point, and there is little we can do to control when or how. Coming to peace with that fact can alleviate a lot of stress during your life, and free you to focus on living life to the fullest while you can.

Thompson says that happiest and mentally healthiest people are often those who have a controlled sense of fear of death, which they come to through acceptance.

“This lack of fear doesn’t mean that they want to die or that they don’t care whether they live or die. Accepting death simply recognizes that death is a natural and expected part of existence,” he explains.

Death During the Pandemic

Under normal circumstances, it’s easy for many people to choose not to think about death. Absent a chronic or terminal illness in ourselves or a loved one, most of us would rather not think about our eventual demise.

However, the pandemic has upended this sense of comfort. With death and illness in the headlines every day, we’re constantly facing reminders about our own mortality.

“Fear of death is driving many anxieties during the pandemic,” Thompson says. “We feel dread when we worry about losing ourselves or families to infection, and this fear is so powerful that it drives our perceptions, choices, and actions.”

Fear of death is impacting the way that many of us act. In some cases, that’s warranted, but it’s also easy to go overboard. It’s important to check in with yourself and determine whether your decisions about school, work, and socializing are rooted in science, or have become based in fear.

Combating Fear of Death

The best way to reduce your fear of death is to live a meaningful life, Thompson says. It may sound cheesy or cliché to advise people to live their lives to the fullest, but the truth is that people who have meaning and quality in life are less likely to fear death, perhaps because they feel that they have done their best with the time they were afforded.

“Psychologists who study meaning and purpose tell us that those who are most afraid of death have not really felt alive during their lifetime,” Thompson says. “On the other hand, those who live full and productive lives typically do not let fear of death drive their choices.”

The pandemic is causing many people to reevaluate how fulfilled they are with their lives. Perhaps you’re one of the people who has discovered that you’re working too much, or are caught in the pursuit of ambitions that don’t actually bring you happiness. If you were to die during the pandemic, you might worry that you didn’t live your life how you really wanted to.

In that way, the pandemic, and the fear of death that accompanies it, brings a welcome opportunity for change. Although the death rates for COVID-19 are shocking, most of us will survive the pandemic in good health. However, your brush with death, even from afar, can have a big impact on how you live your life going forward.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here.

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