How to Deal with Death Anxiety

Over the past several months, I have been sharing excerpts from the memoir that I'm writing, titled Digesting Life. The story of my struggle and recovery from an eating disorder is the basis for what led me to create the KARMA Method, the signature coaching and therapeutic method used by Bespoke Wellness Partners. My hope is that maybe some of these stories will resonate with you or make you more aware of where you are on your specific journey with whatever struggles you may be facing. Below is another excerpt on today's topic of death, which, unfortunately, is super relevant because of all of the death that everyone is dealing with on some level during the pandemic.



“It’s 3 am. I woke up feeling like my heart was bursting in my chest. I have been living on about 600-900 calories per day for the last few weeks. In school, I feel very motivated to succeed, and at the same time, I barely eat or sleep.

As I am writing these sentences, I feel that I could be dying at any moment. Dying from the disease that I have lived with for over a year. As I am having these feelings, I am overwhelmed with thoughts and schoolwork, and it is burning in my head and doesn’t let me eat or sleep, or even think.

I often find myself talking to people and hearing what they are saying, but I actually don’t understand what they are saying. I feel as if their words are passing by me but are not being processed properly in my brain.

My mouth is constantly dry and even though I am drinking seven glasses of water, I still feel thirsty. I feel that my thoughts and feelings that I pushed deep inside drain all the fluids of my body. If I won’t drink, I will dehydrate, collapse, and die.

Even the simple act of writing is extremely exhausting for me, writing is the only thing sane that I have. I know that this disease is trying to win, but I will fight back and win, I know it. I want to lose more weight and become invisible. What am I writing? There are two different people in my head. The one who knows that she will beat the disease and survive, and the other one, who wants to disappear from reality. These contradictory thoughts really scare me. I feel like I am completely losing my mind. Whom should I talk to? Who is there for me when I really need it?

______________________________________________________________________________


Last week, I learned that my father-in-law, whom I love and respect so dearly, was starting hospice care. I felt so sad that someone so special was nearing the end of his life. He passed away on Thursday surrounded by people who loved him dearly. He was a wonderful, kind man and I will miss him.


When you think about death, what is it that comes to your mind? What feeling is associated with the thought of death? If you have lost someone important to you, then you clearly know that this is a very difficult experience that involves a lot of emotions.


My first experience with death was at age 14, when I starved myself until I almost lost my life. It was a wake-up call for me that affects me to this day and continues to inspire me to help others. Over the years, I have thought a lot about it and read various books to educate myself about death. One of my most favorite books is the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. In many ways, it served as my path for spiritual growth, and I am actually surprised that this book is not mandatory to read in high school because it was that impactful to me. I wish that I read this book earlier in my life.


Don’t just take my word for it, though. Here is a review written by Brian Bruya, professor of philosophy:


“Through extraordinary anecdotes and stories from religious traditions East and West, Rinpoche introduces the reader to the fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism, moving gradually to the topics of death and dying. Death turns out to be less of a crisis and more of an opportunity. Concepts such as reincarnation, karma, and bardo and practices such as meditation, tonglen, and phowa teach us how to face death constructively. As a result, life becomes much richer. Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Sogyal Rinpoche opens the door to a full experience of death. It is up to the reader to walk through.”


Whether you have experienced the death of a loved one recently, you have a loved one nearing the end of life, you are trying to help someone else grieving a loss, or you yourself have anxious thoughts about dying, these steps can help you work through that anxiety. Nothing takes away grief. There is no magic pill that can relieve that pain. But dealing with your thoughts surrounding death is important. Having a roadmap can help you cope and not suppress your anxiety and sadness.


Step 1: Express your thoughts and feelings.


Dealing with grief involves a very important step of my KARMA Method: Acceptance. One of the key components of Acceptance is identifying and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and situation as they are. So, first, write them down. Or, talk to a friend or loved one about them. Don’t be afraid to express thoughts that you may perceive as “selfish” or any negative thoughts you have. It’s important to just get them all out.


Step 2: Give yourself time and know that this is a process.



Dealing with death is a process. This five-stage process was created by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and I find it helpful to look at when dealing with any kind of loss (even ones that aren’t specifically death). Take a look at the four stages before acceptance. Notice that they have to do with identifying and accepting negative thoughts and feelings that have to be worked through in order to achieve the ultimate goal of accepting the situation as it is. It’s important to acknowledge that your feelings surrounding death are meant to be examined and dealt with—you don’t just jump right to acceptance.


Step 3: Surround yourself with people you love.



This one seems pretty obvious, but often, when we are dealing with complicated emotions it’s really easy to avoid those who love us most. Don’t isolate yourself as you work through your thoughts and feelings. Instead, make a conscious effort to reach out to the people who love you and be open to letting others in. When people check on you, don’t dismiss them. Reminding yourself that you are loved and are worthy of love will help you feel validated, which is another important step.


Step 4: Validate yourself.


It’s important that you validate your own thoughts and feelings surrounding death. In order to achieve self-validation, it’s important to let go of self-judgment— don’t yell at yourself for having negative thoughts or for “grieving too much” or for “still being sad.” Notice any feelings of shame you have and release that shame by identifying a different, more appropriate emotion to describe what you are feeling. Describe (either write down or tell someone) the situation you are in—what you want and what you feel right now. Practice just being who you are—noticing and putting into words without any judgments just accurate descriptions of yourself. Lastly, pretend you are your own best friend. If your best friend were saying these things, dealing with this situation, how would you respond to them? How gentle and supportive would you be? Be that friend for yourself.



Dealing with death and the anxiety that surrounds it isn’t easy or simple. I encourage you to work through the steps above; but as always, it’s important to remember I did not get here on my own! If you’re looking for help, it can never hurt to reach out.


If you would like to read more about my journey to recovery, subscribe to my weekly blog at the bottom of this page!


With love,

Limor


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