Thanatophobia is a form of anxiety disorder that involves an intense fear of death. Some people may call it “death anxiety.” It can lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety about a person’s death or the process of dying.

Healthcare professionals do not define death anxiety as a distinct disorder, but it may have links to other depression or anxiety disorders. These include:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • panic disorders and panic attacks
  • illness anxiety disorders, which were previously known as hypochondriasis

Thanatophobia is different from necrophobia, which is a general fear of dead or dying things or things associated with death.

In this article, we take a close look at thanatophobia, or death anxiety, to explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments for this fear.

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In the Greek language, the word “Thanatos” refers to death, and “phobos” means fear. Therefore, thanatophobia translates as the fear of death.

Having some anxiety about death is an entirely typical part of the human condition. However, for some people, thinking about their death or the process of dying can cause intense anxiety and fear.

A person may feel extreme anxiety and fear when they consider that death is inevitable. They may also experience:

  • a fear of separation
  • a fear of dealing with a loss
  • worries about leaving loved ones behind

When such fears persist and interfere with daily life and activities, this is known as thanatophobia.

At their most extreme, these feelings can stop people from conducting daily activities or even leaving their homes. Their fears center on things that could result in death, such as severe illness or dangerous objects or people.

Doctors do not classify thanatophobia as a distinct condition, but they may classify it as a type of specific phobia. Healthcare professionals diagnose specific phobias according to the symptoms someone is experiencing.

A specific phobia is an anxiety disorder relating to a specific object or situation. People with specific phobias often avoid or have a fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation, and these feelings typically last for 6 months or more.

Symptoms that may indicate a person has a phobia of dying include:

  • an immediate fear or anxiety when thinking about dying or the process of dying
  • panic attacks that can cause symptoms such as trembling, sweating, and heart palpitations
  • the avoidance of situations where thinking about death or dying may be necessary
  • feeling nauseated or experiencing abdominal pain when thinking about death or dying
  • general feelings of depression or anxiety

Phobias can lead to a person feeling isolated and avoiding contact with friends and family for extended periods of time.

The symptoms may come and go over an individual’s lifetime. Someone with mild death anxiety might experience heightened anxiety when they think about their death or the death of a loved one, such as when they or a family member is seriously ill.

If death anxiety has links to another mental health condition, a person may also experience specific symptoms relating to this underlying condition.

While healthcare professionals define thanatophobia as a general fear of death, there are many types and causes of this anxiety, and the particulars of what an individual focuses on can vary.

Phobias often trigger due to a specific event in a person’s past, though the individual does not always remember what this was. Particular triggers for thanatophobia could include an early traumatic event relating to almost dying or the death of a loved one.

A person who has a severe illness may experience thanatophobia because they feel anxious about dying, though ill health is not necessary for someone to experience this anxiety. Instead, it often relates to psychological distress.

The experience of death anxiety may differ, depending on individual factors.

For example, a 2017 study suggests that older adults fear the dying process, while younger people more commonly fear death itself. According to an older 2012 study, women were more likely than men to fear the death of loved ones and the consequences of their death.

According to a 2014 study, medical professionals link anxiety around death to a range of mental health conditions, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. These anxiety disorders may include:

  • Specific phobias: This may include phobias of objects, environments, or activities that could cause potential harm or death, including certain animals or flying, for example.
  • Panic disorders: This condition involves unexpected and frequent panic attacks. During a panic attack, people may feel a loss of control and an intense fear of dying or impending doom.
  • Illness anxiety disorder: Healthcare professionals previously referred to this condition as hypochondriasis. People with this condition experience intense fear relating to becoming ill and may excessively worry about their health.

Social support networks may help support individuals with death anxiety. Some people may come to terms with death through religious beliefs, though these may perpetuate a fear of death in others.

Research from 2014 suggests that people with high self-esteem, good health, and a belief that they have led a fulfilling life are less likely to have a fear of death than others.

A doctor may recommend that someone with thanatophobia receive treatment for an anxiety disorder, phobia, or for a specific underlying cause of their fear.

Treatment may involve a form of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.


A therapist aims to teach the individual to refocus their fears and to work through them by talking about their concerns. Some therapies a doctor may recommend for death anxiety include:


If doctors diagnose a person with a specific mental health condition, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or PTSD, they may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. This may include beta-blockers or antidepressant medication.

Medications are often most effective alongside therapy.

While medication can be beneficial by relieving feelings of panic and stress in the short term, long-term use of such medication may not be the ideal solution. Instead, working through fears in therapy is more likely to provide long-term relief.

Relaxation techniques

People may be able to manage feelings of stress or anxiety by:

While it is natural to have concerns about the future and the future of loved ones, if the anxiety around death persists for 6 months or more or hinders daily life, a person needs to consider speaking with a doctor.

There are many ways that a person can manage their fear of death, and a mental health professional will be able to offer guidance and reassurance during this process.

Thanatophobia, or death anxiety, refers to an intense fear of death or the process of dying.

Symptoms may include panic attacks and avoidance of situations in which thinking about death or dying may be necessary. A doctor may diagnose someone with a specific phobia if they experience symptoms for 6 months or more.

Treatment may include therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy, or medications, such as antidepressants and beta-blockers. A doctor may recommend combining both types of treatment.

People need to speak with a healthcare professional if they think they may be experiencing thanatophobia.

Read the article in Spanish.