Musings on Mortality: Combat stress by embracing whatever brings joy

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There is a term used in the field of thanatology called "mortality salience." It comes out of a theory called "Terror Management Theory" that American social psychologists proposed based on the brilliant work of the cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, presented in his 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Denial of Death." What these social psychologists proved in a clinical setting is that the awareness of one's mortality (mortality salience) triggers in a death-denying and death-phobic person a need to identify with a particular group; a lack of tolerance for those one perceives as different; and, more punitive behavior toward others.

Sound familiar?

We are at a time when mortality salience is at an all-time high. Unless we live or grew-up in neighborhoods where violence and discrimination exist, we now feel that our lives are threatened by a myriad of heightened possibilities. They are: nuclear war with North Korea, catastrophic weather systems, Russian infiltration of our democratic system, losing health insurance as we age and have more medical issues, and being gunned down in public. Then there are the opaque threats from President Donald Trump directed at all of humanity.

We have gone from a death-denying and death-phobic culture to one that questions whether this will be our last day.



This is unprecedented in our country and we are not prepared to look at the underlying death-phobia and death-denial that has brought us to this place. Those in The Trump administration, many Republicans, and the oligarchs are doing nothing about the potential ways in which we can be killed by flaming the fires because their death-denial is so profound that they don't think these threats will kill them.



Mortality salience is off the charts. The sense of having no control of one's fate or the fate of others causes stress and anxiety for what might happen and what is happening. It will be stress that overtakes our daily lives, not the projected threats to our survival.

So, I want to address stress. If you don't want to be consumed by stress, I offer some suggestions. As you worry and panic about your vulnerability and the suffering of all living beings, be sure to have something in your life that brings joy. Listen to music that gets you moving, and dance. Find something that makes you feel connected to something greater than yourself and the material world — nature, art, loved ones, animals, activism, exercise. Ask yourself, what is it about death that is so terrifying? Hold gratitude in one hand and grief in the other. Be in the discomfort. Breathe.



Deborah Golden Alecson is a death, dying and bereavement educator and speaker who resides in Lenox. She is the author of three books that deal with her personal loss. Learn more at deborahgoldenalecson.com.



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