This blog follows on from my previous blogs – Existential Therapy and A consideration of some vital notions connected to Existential Therapies.
In Existential Therapy reflecting on death anxiety would not be the same without a consideration of Heidegger. Heidegger (1927) regarded human beings as always ‘being towards death’. He asserted the significance of anticipating death as a vehicle to address the possibility of being itself. Heidegger (1927) described the earnest recognition of our being towards death and its possibility in the following way:
“Impassioned freedom towards death – a freedom which has been released from the illusions of the ‘they’ and which is tactical, certain of itself, and anxious”
(p. 266) 
To me it seems Heidegger postulated that by confronting our finitude we can take responsibility for our existence and be released from the illusions surrounding a life of conformity. However, this does not remove anxiety from living but reframes it as something inherent in being.
To a greater and lesser extent ‘death anxiety’ is considered by existential therapists as a central theme. One’s mortality is recognised as a continuing condition of human beings. It is perhaps the only thing that belongs to us, and we can knowingly and unknowingly be living in the anticipation of its possibility and eventuality. This theme holds much uncertainty and reflects back to us the pervading uncertainty of life. It gives birth to the existential angst inherent in the human condition. This angst is generated by the fragility and unreliability of a life lived in this existence.
This does not have to be a pessimistic view. It is in fact allowing an exploration of the boundaries of life. By confronting our mortality, and in fact any pain and suffering experienced along our path, we have the opportunity to clarify our limits and identify that which is out of our reach rather than evading it. Simultaneously it can support us to become aware of our potential and the elements in our lives that it is possible to do something about. It can make us feel more adventurous and alive.
Existential Therapy frequently espouses the importance of facing up to our life and death and all that is experienced between the two poles of our existence, whether it be inevitable suffering or joy. We must find the capacity to confront our difficulties in living and permit the experience to feel it, without needing to linger for too long.
Equally we must see the good in our existence and recognise these times as they happen. Allow learning to ensue so that we can augment this in our lives, but without getting caught in the pursuit of unending happiness. Ultimately all aspects experienced, wherever they fall on the spectrum of suffering or joy, do not stand alone. They are all parts of the same indivisible perspective that each individual experiences as they travel within their existence.
So whether or not death anxiety is viable to consider, angst or anxiety is seen as an inevitable part of existence by Existential Therapists. Many will emphasise the significance of valuing, understanding and tolerating anxiety. Many recognise anxiety as a sign that something in our life needs our energy and attention rather than it being a threat or something to be eliminated. Perhaps it may be the very thing that unshackles us from conformity and seeking validation or permission from others. Perhaps it is the vehicle within which we may feel our aliveness, engagement, and vital connection.
Susanna Petitpierre, BACP Registered, is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, providing long and short term counselling. Her approach is primarily grounded in existential therapy and she works with individuals. Susanna is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice and Lewes Practice.
Further reading by Susanna Petitpierre –
 Heidegger, M. (1927) Being and Time (transl. J. Macquarrie and E.s Robinson) Londo: Harper and Row, 1962 edn.