Death is a universal event that touches us all. No matter how hard we try, we can never escape it. Most of us fear death, but where does this fear come from? How does our brain process the fear of death when it is near?

We sat down with Linda Fitch, a shaman and energy healing teacher, to tell us more about what happens to our brains when the fear of death overtakes us.

Why Do We Fear Death?

Even though death eventually comes for everyone, human beings have a fear of the unknown. This is especially true today, in the modern world, where we have any information we need right at our fingertips. We don’t know what happens after death, and that terrifies us.

More importantly, we are afraid of what we are leaving behind. People always worry for their family members and their children, or they obsess over their unfinished business. Our fear of death relates to concern for our loved ones after we pass, as well as regrets for the words we didn’t say or the things we didn’t do.

How Does Our Brain Process Death?

Our brains are made up of several parts, and they each have a different way of processing the prospect of death. According to Linda Fitch, the first part of our brains to develop – the brain stem – is part of the midbrain that houses the limbic system. This complex collection of nerves in the brain are responsible for our most basic impulses – including the need to survive.

She explains that the limbic brain “is geared toward survival. And that’s this brain’s job is survival. Through all of its functions and everything, it’s about survival of the species, then the next brain that forms is that more emotional brain: that’s where the fear comes in.”

When confronted with death, our minds go into a “fight or flight” mode. The neocortex processes our thoughts, but we can’t understand death because we have never experienced it. Since we naturally fear the unknown, we may use spirituality to ease our worries.

What Can I Do to Calm My Fears About Death?

Several techniques can help calm our fears about death and let us approach it without fear or regret. Our brains will never overcome the fear of death, but these methods can ease our minds. No matter your religion, rituals and ceremonies revolve around death and the final goodbye.

Use Rituals and Ceremonies

The most common way to find peace in the face of death is through ritual and ceremony. Linda points out the difference between rituals and ceremonies is the structure. Rituals are very rigid in how they are performed, while ceremonies are much more natural.

Depending on your spiritual practice, most rituals in preparation for death revolve around prayer or some other repetitive activity that soothes our minds and souls. Ceremonies are more relaxed gatherings or services that celebrate life. Whether we use ritual or ceremony, it becomes a habit in life that follows us in death.

Use a Grief Altar

Using a grief altar is a great practice to prepare for death. Many of us fear death because we are naturally afraid of leaving anything unfinished while we are alive. This includes unprocessed trauma, which can weigh the soul down before its death journey.

Linda suggests placing a grief altar in your home or on your property. She thoroughly explains the purpose of a grief altar in our previous talk, “3 Powerful Shamanic Practices to Help You Deal with Death and Grief.” Making this altar is relatively simple: all you need is a table, a candle, a bowl, and a dark cloth.

Grief altars are used in shamanic practice, but anyone can use them to make their death journey more peaceful. Regularly kneeling in front of the table can bring forth any unresolved grief or emotions. This can help us reach the death journey with a clear mind and without regret.

Build an Altar in Remembrance of the Dying

Another way to calm our minds is to build an altar for yourself or for a person who is dying. This is very similar to the grief altar, except it celebrates a person’s life. You can incorporate pictures and other memorabilia, but many shrines can include the subject’s favorite music or smell.

The shamanic tradition has many methods that deal with the fear and grief associated with death. Linda teaches several workshops on the subject. You can find detailed information on her website here.

Are you afraid of death? What do you do daily to help you through it? Let’s have a conversation!