When we were serving a mission at BYU-Hawaii, a student said he came to counseling because he was struggling with “death anxiety.“ Looking back, I should’ve been more empathetic, but I simply said, “What about your testimony?”
From a counseling perspective, Dr. David Burns, M.D., a renowned psychiatrist and an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy, said that usually “death anxiety” is not about death, but it more often is “life anxiety” or worries about what they are doing with their life. (When Panic Attacks, David D. Burns, 2006).
That anxiety leads to several questions: What are your worries? What are the things that keep you awake at night? What evidence is there that your worries are valid? How about your relationships: What are you doing to strengthen your relationship with your wife or with your husband? With your children? With your family and extended family? How are things going in school, at work, and in your other activities? How do you feel about your place in the world? How do you feel about where the world is headed?
Recently another therapist shared with me that many of her young adult clients are struggling to find meaning in their lives. When she asks about their values and goals, they have difficulty responding.
At BYUH, another senior missionary couple was assigned to Career Services to help students plan their future. They developed a class based on the book “Designing Your Life, How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. This book encourages readers to look at the things that would help bring meaning and joy into their lives. (Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, 2016).
What would it be like to recognize that life is a gift? If a mother and father had children intentionally or if we were a happy surprise, here we are! We have the gift of life. Life brings blessings and opportunities, adversity and challenges, and experiences for learning and growth, and times of happiness and joy.
Often when my missionary clients are struggling, I tell them I have a book that will help you. It is called the Book of Mormon. We can probably say that the prophet Alma’s son Corianton had “death anxiety.” Then Alma gave his son (and us) some wonderful teachings about our existence, the resurrection, the state of our soul between death and the resurrection, the restoration of the soul to the body, the power of repentance and the atonement of Jesus Christ, and being raised to eternal happiness. (Alma chapters 40, 41, and 42).
Our dear prophet President Russell M. Nelson (then Elder Nelson) in his talk “Doors of Death” (General Conference, April 1992) taught about the plan of salvation, the fact that we have a “round-trip ticket” to return to our Heavenly Parents from whose presence we came to this earth. He taught that “We were born to die, and we die to live.” President Nelson exhorted us to use our time wisely, “… we who tarry here have a few precious moments remaining “to prepare to meet God.” (Alma 34:32.) “Today we have a little more time to bless others—time to be kinder, more compassionate, quicker to thank and slower to scold, more generous in sharing, more gracious in caring.”
President Nelson concludes, “We need not look upon death as an enemy. With full understanding and preparation, faith supplants fear. Hope displaces despair. The Lord said, “Fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.” (D&C 101:36.) The Lord bestowed this gift: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) “Cherish each moment as a blessing from God. (See Mosiah 2:21.) Live it well—even to your loftiest potential. Then the anticipation of death shall not hold you hostage. With the help of the Lord, your deeds and desires will qualify you to receive everlasting joy, glory, immortality, and eternal lives.”
May the Lord bless us with the reassurance, courage, and inspiration to use this mortal experience to find meaning, purpose, and joy as we cherish life.
[Note: The ideas and suggestions contained in these articles are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional. In addition, if you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek medical or mental health assistance immediately. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/. Services are free and confidential.]