In this counseling answer:
• I highly encourage you to seek help from a professional as soon as possible. Phobias are highly treatable, brother, usually by Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT), Desensitization, or Exposure Therapy, and medication.
• Identify when you started experiencing this excessive fear of snakes.
• Keep strengthening your relationship with Allah.
• Study aqeedah, the Islamic creed.
• Chose 3 things that you felt grateful for on that day.
• Meet new people; try new things.
Reviewed by Dr. Aisha Muhammad-Swan (Ph.D.).
Wa Alaikum Salam brother,
I am sorry to hear of your fear of death and snake bites.
Let me tell you, brother, we all fear of death and other things to a certain level. Fears may be triggered from environmental factors, an experience, from memories or trauma or fears may become an extreme reaction to everyday things we may encounter such as overwhelming fear of heights, crossing bridges, snakes, spiders, going out in public, driving, etc. These can be phobias – a type of anxiety disorder.
Everyone Experiences Fear
Fear is one of our basic emotions, thus, has a function in our life. i.e. it activates our body to do something in case of a danger. However, when our fear disables us to do certain things in our daily life, the natural fear we can still cope with grows into a clinical illness – an anxiety disorder that we fail to handle.
There are certain times when we are more preoccupied with thoughts about death. Typically, pre-school children, young adults, and elder people think of death more often as a result of their natural transition from one life stage to another.
You say you have an extreme fear (a phobia) of snakes. It sounds your fear of death is related to this phobia as you fear the death of snake bite/poison.
Phobias typically develop before the age of 4 to 8 years due to a traumatic early experience or witnessing the phobia of a family member. In the USA alone, approximately 19 million people have a phobia. So you are not alone, brother.
One of the bad sides of phobias is that” despite individuals being aware that their phobia is irrational, they cannot control the fear reaction.” This is in align with what you wrote in your message, that although you read some articles about your phobias and fears which made you feel relieved a bit, the fears keep hunting you.
It seems your anxiety holds you back from too many things and disturbs your daily life. Therefore, I highly encourage you to seek help from a professional as soon as possible. Phobias are highly treatable, brother, usually by Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT), Desensitization, or Exposure Therapy, and medication. With the help of Allah, inshallah you will get cured as well!
In addition to therapy, there are certain things you can try by yourself to overcome your anxiety.
When do you experience the fear of death?
Your first step, brother, is to identify when you started experiencing this excessive fear of snakes. Do you live in an area where snake bites can occur? Have you ever been bitten by a snake? Has anyone of your beloved ones got hurt/died due to a snake bite?
And how about your fear of death? When did it start? What do you feel exactly and what keeps triggering this fear? Ask yourself and answer honestly, “What was going on around me when I started feeling afraid or anxious at that moment?” Think of some occasions in the last couple of days when you felt excessively fearful of death. What were you doing? What was going around you? Do you use avoidance behaviors?
It would be important that from now to on you write a journal in which you record these moments in details. Make note of any time you feel afraid.
Writing these down can be a great way to start becoming aware of what triggers your fear. Analyzing and understanding your fears and thoughts can help you overcome your fears.
Faith is our strongest weapon against fears
As Muslims, we have a very strong aid against fears – our faith in Allah. We Muslims believe that we all belong to Allah, who put us temporarily in this life to worship Him. (Quran 51:56) We are encouraged to do good and avoid the bad so that after leaving this temporary world we go back to our ultimate place, the place we were originally created in – Jennah. When you keep these in mind, you will feel about death differently as well.
I mentioned that fear is a basic emotion and has benefits. From a religious perspective, the fear of death activates us to make the most out of our days and do things that matter, that benefit us and others.
Death is a deadline. We need deadlines at work or in the school to make sure we study for the exam or complete a certain task. Death is the same; we need it so that we make the best out of our days here on this earth.
So, brother, I advise you that you keep strengthening your relationship with Allah. Do your best to live a life that is pleasing to Allah to earn the protection of Allah. There is no shame that in your du’aa’s you admit to Allah that you fear of death and snakes and you ask Him to remove this fear. Allah hears you and cares about you.
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I also encourage you to study aqeedah, the Islamic creed. Understanding the Muslim belief about Allah, our world, and the Hereafter will inshallah help you feel more comfortable with death.
Also, talk about this with your friends and family and ask them how they cope with this fear of death or their phobias if they have any. Unfortunately, people of the modern life tend to cope by completely ignoring the topic of death as if death did not exist. People do not dear to mention the word “death”; they do not bring children to funerals because it is too shocking for them. etc. Obviously, it is when we sweep death under the carpet and make it as a taboo topic.
However, the attitude of Muslims towards death should be different. As we think of it as a deadline of our deeds, we are actually encouraged to contemplate on death often and ask Allah to make us utilize our time the best way. But our approach is balanced; we think of death and afterlife but we equally think of this life and its pleasures. We are encouraged to do things that not only please Allah and earn us reward for the hereafter but that make us happy.
If you look at the Quran: it always talks about good and bad, Heaven and Hell, reward and punishment in a very balanced way, subhanallah. We need to make this balance in our life as well.
Live in the moment
So, while you are working on accepting the fact of our mortality, you need to also start enjoying your life and living and appreciating the moment. Be with your family and friends a lot; set aims and goals in life; make your bucket list and do things that you want to accomplish in this life; do things you enjoy doing on a daily basis such as a hobby.
If you are already journaling your fears, you can dedicate one page every day in your journal to write down your happy moments of the day. Chose 3 things that you felt grateful for on that day. They can be little things. Anything. Recall how it made you feel exactly and what was it about that made you feel grateful.
Meet new people and try new things. Oftentimes such troublesome thoughts come to us because we are bored or do not have a clear vision of our future. These thoughts might also indicate that you need some change in your life. It will be a great tool for learning how to focus on producing joy in life as opposed to worrying about death.
So, brother, strengthen your relationship with Allah; pray, make du’aa’ for him to keep you away from harm and help you overcome your fears. I encourage you to seek help from a professional as soon as possible for your possible phobia/anxiety disorder, otherwise, the rest of what I suggested will be difficult to implement.
May Allah help you, brother,
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