Early Buddhist thought clearly recognizes the need for learning how to face one’s own mortality, for which purpose mindfulness practice has a central role to play. Fear of death has also been studied in cognitive psychology, leading to what is known as the terror management theory. Actual research evidence in psychology has already shown that mindfulness practice may reduce fear and anxiety in general. However, there is a lack of research examining the specific effects of brief mindfulness practices on the fear of death and dying. In this study we tested the hypothesis that brief mindfulness practices used daily over a period of 6 weeks will result in a reduction of the fear of death and dying when compared to brief contemplative practices used as an active control condition.
Participants (n = 89) were randomly assigned to the mindfulness (n = 44) and the contemplation (n = 45) conditions and completed validated scales measuring four distinct fears related to either the process of dying or the final event of death (dying of oneself, death of oneself, dying of others, and death of others), mindfulness, and self-compassion at baseline, post-intervention (at 6 weeks) and follow up (1‒3 weeks after the end of the 6-week intervention). ANOVA was used to investigate the effects of both interventions on outcome variables over time and between groups.
Both mindfulness and contemplative practices were equally effective in reducing fear related to dying of oneself and death of others while increasing fear of dying of others, mindfulness, and self-compassion. No significant intervention effects were found for fear related to death of oneself only.
These results suggest that fears related to dying of oneself and death of others can be reduced using both mindfulness and contemplative practices that may simultaneously increase mindfulness and self-compassion.