Every once and a while, we all find ourselves awake at in the middle of the night, possessed by anxieties about the future, about life, about death. Facing the gaping maw of the great unknown, it’s easy to spiral into panic: How do I handle the future? Have I accomplished the things that I want to? What happens after death? What if I died tomorrow? Fun stuff!
You don’t have to be an anxiety sufferer to fear death. The fear of death is universal, and its effects span a wide range, influencing human behavior in myriad ways. Humanity has developed a long string of platitudes to deal with this overwhelming anxiety: Carpe diem! Live life to the fullest! Live in the Now! But what does any of that actually mean? When most of us are plagued by fears of death, we can’t simply swan off to some foreign country to find ourselves, à la Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. It can be difficult to find the time, space, and energy to deal with the big issues of life and death, but here are a few small, real things you can do to help you deal with the big questions.
1. Do things that you’re afraid of
“Face your fears” is such a cliché, but usually, clichés become clichés for a reason. Doing things you are afraid of can make you feel more in control of your life and more able to deal with the things that you can’t control. That said, “facing your fears” doesn’t mean that you have to go skydiving or swimming with the sharks—you don’t actually have to look death in the face. Just make yourself do things that you’d normally shy away from, even if they seem really trivial. Try octopus for the first time, go out to dinner alone, ask someone out. If you’re shy, raise your hand in class or speak up at your next meeting. Tackling these fears and coming out on the other side can make the Big Unknown seem just a little less scary.
2. Take stock of the good things in life
When you’re seized by a fear of death, take a moment to really think about all of the ways that you’re lucky. I don’t mean that in an abstract sense: Physically sit down with a piece of paper and make an honest-to-god list of things that are good in your life. These things don’t have to be earth-shattering: if you had a yummy dinner, be thankful for that. If you walk to work everyday, be thankful for your nice strong legs that make that walk possible. Interrupting your endless stream of worry about what lies ahead with a list of the things you’re grateful for right now can help to break that cycle of anxiety.
3. Carpe the hell out of that diem
People tell us to seize all the days all the time, but how does one actually go about doing that? Sure, it would be awesome to blow every cent I have on a life-changing, spiritually transforming pilgrimage to Bali, but I would be really sad when I got home and had to sell my eggs to make rent.
So what do you do if you’re working on a smaller scale? Do something impulsive. Change your routine. If you usually clean on Saturday mornings, go to an early movie instead. If you and your S.O. go to the same Thai place every Tuesday, mix it up and grab Greek food instead. Variety is the spice of life! And somehow, it makes death feel slightly less pressing
4. Make something
Start an intense DIY. Learn to cross-stitch. Make pasta from scratch. Making something that is detailed and labor-intensive can be great for keeping your mind off of your fears and for making you feel like you’ve contributed something productive to the universe. A few hours of focusing a task full of beautiful details is almost meditative. You'll walk away more calm, centered, and remembering how to be present right where you are, good and alive.
5. Have sex
Studies have shown that having partnered sex can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. If you’re less anxious in general, then you are less likely to be worried about death in particular. Good sex is also life-affirming—if anything can make you feel like you’re “living in the moment,” it’s an orgasm, amirite?
Images: Orion Pictures; Giphy (2); jsutcℓiffe/Flickr