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Fears around getting older and mortality


There are only two certainties in life – that we will age, and that one day we will die. For some these might be just unwelcome thoughts we push away until something jolts us briefly into awareness, only to push them away again. For others, fear of mortality can become so debilitating that it gets in the way of living life to the full.  Anxiety about death fluctuates throughout life, and is usually most acute at times of transition such as puberty and mid-life. Fears about ageing and death are interconnected – after all, ageing is the outward manifestation of our mortality.

Fears about ageing and death are an issue for many people coming to therapy. For some this might be an acute, explicit fear, perhaps taking the form of panic attacks, health anxieties, or preoccupations with preventing risk and illness. Or perhaps you’re considering therapy because a brush with death or illness has shaken you and prompted you to think more deeply about your life. For some people, the fear of mortality might be more subtle and well-disguised underneath the things you might be using to distract or numb yourself, such as driving yourself to burnout at work, losing yourself in parenthood or exercise, or developing an addiction or disordered eating.


The world bombards us with messages that ageing is to be feared, reversed or even eradicated, and that we should live our lives according to various ideals of Instagram perfection;  that we should look younger, seize the day and live our best life. These things may bring temporary comfort or a sense of control, but they can also intensify feelings of anxiety, creating confusion about what to prioritise and becoming a further distraction from actually living our lives in our own way. It’s impossible to live every moment fully aware of our mortality – we’d be frozen in fear or indecision about how best to spend our time. So how can we manage this uncomfortable truth about our existence? There is no definitive answer to this question, but therapy can help you to find a meaningful answer for you.

The question of how to live a meaningful life in the face of mortality and life’s uncertainty is not so much a problem to be solved but rather a fact of existence for us to face up to and engage with.  If we can do so, the fact that life is finite may surprisingly prove to be the key to living a more fulfilling life. This is the basis of existential philosophy, which is the ground of existential therapy – to work out how to live life more fully and purposefully. So how can therapy help? It can help you face and manage your anxieties and put your fears into perspective so that you can get your bearings again if you have been feeling lost or unsteady. Therapy helps you to understand yourself better so that you can make more active choices about how you live your life.  We can’t make life’s harsh realities go away, but if we can stop avoiding the difficult things so much, we gain a greater sense of our own agency, resourcefulness and freedom. And once we start to live in a way that feels more fulfilling and meaningful, fears of death and ageing have far less of a grip on us.

Fern Dickson has particular experience working with Fears around getting older and mortality. Have a look at her biography to see if her approach might work for what you are struggling with.

Further reading:

Staring at the Sun (2008) Irvin D Yalom, (Piaktus) 
Everyday Mysteries (2010) Emmy van Deurzen, (Routledge)
Gratitude (2015) Oliver Sacks, (Knopf)
So Far So Good: Final Poems 2014-2018 (2018), Ursula K Le Guin (Copper Canyon Press) 
Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use it (2021), Oliver Burkeman, (Bodley Head)


How we can help

  • Family relationships with children and adolescents

  • Fears around getting older and mortality

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • Health anxiety

  • Loneliness and social isolation

  • Low mood and loss of motivation and purpose

  • Male identity and men’s issues

  • Marriage issues

  • Menopause and life changes issues

  • Mood swings

  • Obsessions and intrusive thoughts

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Panic Disorder

  • Professional and career difficulties

  • Postnatal depression and baby blues 

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