Death Anxiety, Covid & Breathwork

How comfortable are you with death? Have you accepted it as inevitable and made peace with it? Or does the mere thought of it cause anxiety, or a stress reaction in your body?

Death anxiety, or Thanatophobia is defined as an intense fear of one’s own death or the dying process. It can affect people of all ages, and the pandemic has led to a huge surge in the amounts of people who battle with it, making it relatively common across the globe.[1] It has also increased the amount of people who are not only preoccupied and fearful of death and dying, but also obsessive or neurotic about trying to avoid it. [2]

Perhaps, not surprisingly, researchers have found death anxiety is significantly linked to Covid-19 related stress and anxiety levels.[3],[4]  In other words, the more scared of death you are, the more fearful you are likely to be of Covid. People with death anxiety are also more likely to have developed a mental health condition as a result of the pandemic, such as hypochondriasis, panic disorder, or anxiety or depressive disorders. [5]

*If interested, you can check out the death anxiety scale, or DAS, self-assessment questionnaire here on pg 39-40

The Harmful & Systemic Effects of Death Anxiety

Although death anxiety is rarely discussed it can dramatically affect our behaviour, and compromise our health and wellbeing. [6] If left unaddressed, it can lead to numerous consequences including decreased physical functions, poor resilience, low self-esteem, life dissatisfaction, and as mentioned above a variety of mental health conditions.[7],[8],[9] Ongoing anxiety and the stress that it causes also increases your risk for infectious diseases by suppressing your immune system, and for almost every chronic disease, only hastening that which you are most anxious to avoid.[10],[11],[12]

But what if there was another way? While it is natural to experience discomfort around our passing, it doesn’t need to be an overwhelming, harmful, or all-consuming experience. And if you or someone you love have become hypervigilant, anxious, avoidant, depressed or highly stressed in response to Covid-19, addressing the fear of death itself may hold the key to regaining a sense of balance and wellbeing. [13]

The Breath – Your Greatest Ally

Your own breath can be your greatest ally in your journey towards overcoming death anxiety and it’s myriad negative consequences. This is not just our opinion – the benefits of breath practices for the management of all types of anxiety is well-established in medical literature (check out this article for more on this). While there haven’t yet been many studies that directly investigate the use of Breathwork for death anxiety, the studies that have been done have yielded very promising results.

These studies used Holotropic Breathwork which is one of the two main branches of modern Breathwork from which all subsets of conscious, connected Breathwork (including Alchemy of Breath) have been born. Although the technique is slightly different between Breathwork schools, the therapeutic effects of all variants of conscious, connected, Breathwork are considered the same.

One noteworthy study found 6 monthly Holotropic Breathwork sessions in combination with psychotherapy led to significantly reduced death anxiety (as indicated by the death anxiety scale, DAS), and increased self-esteem; and the combination was substantially more effective than therapy alone. [14]

There was also a large-scale study that investigated the effects of a weeklong Holotropic Breathwork workshop. Although a reduction of death anxiety was not directly proven, the majority of the participants reported gaining substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance from the experience and an increase in wellbeing and life satisfaction which was still felt a year later. [15] And approximately 20% of the participants reported having life-changing mystical experiences. [16] These results are relevant because spiritual experiences, spiritual welllbeing, and overall wellbeing are all strongly correlated with a reduction of death anxiety in medical literature. [17],[18]

An additional study worth mentioning collected data over a 12-year period in a hospital setting that included 11,000 participants. Many of the participants reported significant emotional and spiritual benefits, transpersonal experiences and the resolution of psychological and existential life issues from a single Breathwork session. [19]

The Breath For A Peaceful Passing

The breath can also be used consciously in our final days and final moments to gain acceptance so that we can pass peacefully. Here’s a beautiful and particularly poignant story that a colleague shared with us:

When his mother was on her deathbed, he was able to fly to be with her for the last few days of her life. Each day they would look at each other in the eyes while taking 15-20 slow, conscious breaths together. On the day that she died they took 3 breaths together, and then they both held their breath in tandem. Eventually he couldn’t hold it any more, and he let go of his breath. Moments later she let go of her breath as well, and that was her final exhale.

Worth noting here is the connection between DMT, birth, death, and Breathwork. DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is the strongest known psychedelic chemical on earth – and it is found naturally in plants, animals and our own bodies.[20],[21] Emerging research suggests DMT may be released during birth and death, to peacefully facilitate the soul’s movement in and out of the body. [22] This research is supported by the fact that people who have near death experiences and people who ingest DMT often report very similar experiences – including intense lights, visions, flashbacks, ego-dissolution, and mystical-type experiences. [23]

Breathwork journeys often mimic ingested DMT and near death experiences as well, and it is hypothesized that Breathwork triggers the natural release of DMT in the body. In fact, many people now believe the release of DMT is responsible for the transpersonal, transformative and therapeutic effects of Breathwork. If Breathwork does indeed release DMT then this release could be an additional way in which Breathwork may help us make peace with our death.

Closing Thoughts

The breath is with us from the moment we are born until the moment we pass on, and when used consciously it can be our greatest ally for all the moments in between.

Breathwork connects us to our inner wisdom and a higher consciousness and it empowers us to be our own healers. It may also be our greatest tool for cultivating peace and acceptance around our inevitable death; and can be offered to those with death anxiety or terminal illnesses, and to those who are on their final days to help ease distress.

Join Us for a Free Breathwork Session

Our mission at Alchemy of Breath is to make Breathwork and it’s incredible healing benefits accessible to the masses and as a part of that mission we offer a world-leading online Breathwork Facilitator Training and several free breath-based events to our global community. If you would like to experience Breathwork, we invite to join us at our free Sunday #Breathetheworld sessions, Tuesday Ceremonial Breathworks, or one of our upcoming special events.


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