Death is one of the most frightening things we will ever experience. Death anxiety is an inherent part of life, but it can harm us if left unchecked. Coping with death anxiety is an important part of anybody's life.
Naturally, all living beings are endowed with some level of fear of their own demise. Without even trying, we avoid things that can lead to our death or at least remind us of our death.
Death anxiety isn't like arachnophobia or other common fears we have. It has its origin in our evolutionary history and is present in most sentient species. During the evolution of humans, those who feared death avoided things that would kill them. This gave them a clear advantage over someone who would not avoid death and lead to the proliferation of death anxiety.
On a neurological level, certain hormones and neurotransmitters are known to increase levels of death anxiety. Cortisol, a hormone known to promote increased electrical activity in the brain, is well known for its ability to promote all sorts of anxieties including death anxiety.
Someone with a genetic tendency towards high cortisol levels with naturally hold higher levels of anxiety as well. Other biomarkers associated with death anxiety include dopamine and alpha amylase.
This kind of anxiety tends to increase over life as we experience important life events. One of the most obvious examples of an experience that can increase levels of death anxiety is aging. Aging is essentially a natural process that leads to the decline of physical and mental health.
As we age, we lose our strength, our stamina, our memory and other important traits we possess. Many people respond to this decline by adapting a greater fear of death than they previously had.
Economic crises and other experiences that force us to contend with conflict and the loss of resources can also stir death anxiety. Events such as the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 and the economic crisis in 2008 have increased feelings of anxiety of death within the general populace.
Generation Z, the latest generation to come of age, tends to hold considerable anxiety about the future due to the effects these events have had on their lives.
Anxiety, from thoughts of death, can harm us in more ways than one. It often causes us to act in ways that are irrational or may even cause the exact opposite of the effects we want to bring about.
It often leads people to behave in xenophobic fashions and to adopt hostility towards change. People often hunker down and begin rejecting new ideas because they want to keep the world around them the same as it always was.
This condition is an instinct and it is often manipulated by marketing firms and propagandists to influence people in seedy ways. For example, a politician may have ads developed to remind people of rare but possible dangers in order to convince voters to support him, even if his policies would not benefit or even harm the voting populace.
Understanding how death anxiety is exploited by politicians and advertisers is a key component of coping with it.
Death anxiety can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to rule our lives. People can understand how to better cope with death anxiety by coming to terms with our own mortality. We can't live forever but we can find ways to make sure we don't regret the way we used the time on earth we do have.
Understanding the importance of taking risks is one step towards combating such anxiety. People who live their lives to their fullest tend to have lower levels of death anxiety overall. If death anxiety is allowed to fester, it will eventually lead to even greater levels of death anxiety as we realize we have wasted much of our lives.