The concept of separation anxiety is primarily applicable to young children because they tend to become highly anxious during goodbyes. Children with separation anxiety are clingy and prone to throwing tantrums. These reactions, however, are considered a normal part of their development.
This article will not only focus on separation anxiety among children but, more importantly, also discuss separation anxiety disorder in adults. It’ll help you understand the condition, its causes and symptoms, and how it could be treated.
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Separation anxiety disorder is a mental health issue where the person is afraid to be separated from another person, an animal, or even a place. Whatever or whomever they’re attached to is their source of safety and connection.
A child growing up insecurely attached may develop separation anxiety. If they’re younger than two years old, they might be stressed when their primary caregiver leaves them, whether it’s for a short time or the whole day. Young kids can’t understand that their parents or guardians need to leave temporarily so they can fulfill essential obligations.
Separation anxiety could also be experienced by adults; in that case, it’s referred to as adult separation anxiety (ASA). Like other anxiety disorders, this may affect your daily activities. Thankfully, the condition is treatable.
People may have different experiences with someone who has ASA. Individuals with ASA may express their fears of separating from someone or something by being controlling or overprotective, among other behaviors.
Characteristics of Separation Anxiety Disorder
There are three characteristics of SAD that you have to take note of:
It Is Persistent
A person with SAD may show recurring and extreme distress when experiencing or anticipating separation. They’re apprehensive about how they could permanently lose the person they value most through illness, abandonment, or death.
It Works in a Spectrum
Symptoms of SAD may vary from person to person. A person with the condition could experience mild to severe symptoms.
It Is Common in Children
Separation anxiety is very common in young children. However, adults may also experience separation anxiety when they’re far from their children, their romantic partner, an important family member, or a beloved pet.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
When individuals are separated from another person, they may develop intense anxiety and worry about being left alone. People with SAD can also have coexisting mental health issues like phobias and panic disorders.
Symptoms of intense separation anxiety in adults may last for at least six months and affect their daily functioning, whether it has to do with work, their social life, or academics. The following are some symptoms of SAD:
Physical symptoms that may manifest because of SAD are:
- Sore throat
- Rapid heartbeat
- Itchiness in the limbs
Behavioral and Cognitive Symptoms
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines these symptoms of separation anxiety disorder:
- Unusual and excessive distress when separated from a particular individual
- Excessive worry and fear of being alone
- Major mood changes
- Continuous checking of the whereabouts of the individual they’re attached to
- Intense feeling of jealousy
- Affected concentration and decision-making skills
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
A person with separation anxiety may find it challenging to leave their home. When adults “mooch” off their parents, they struggle to leave and become independent due to separation anxiety. Even if they’re working adults, they still prefer to live in their parents’ home for as long as possible.
Individuals with separation anxiety could show signs of struggle with work or school as well. They may resort to substance use for them to cope with stress.
Causes of Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety may be hereditary. If the parent has an anxiety disorder, the children could develop higher levels of separation anxiety until adulthood.
An adult may develop SAD if an essential person in their life moves away or passes away. The same result is likely should they go through a divorce or if their children move out of the family home.
Living in a chaotic and abusive home is another factor that can trigger separation anxiety. If the parents are consistently absent in a child’s life due to imprisonment, military deployment, or abandonment, the child could develop SAD.
Mental Illness: Other Anxiety Disorders
Adult separation anxiety may also be caused by an underlying mental health condition such as generalized anxiety disorder, psychotic disorders, or autism spectrum disorder. If you’re diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you’re equally at risk of developing SAD.
The American Journal of Psychiatry presented facts indicating that around 43.1% of individuals (excluding children) with separation anxiety develop the disorder after the age of 18.
Here are the other factors that could put you at risk of developing separation anxiety disorder:
- Hardship during childhood because of a family member’s death
- Childhood trauma or abuse
In previous versions of the DSM-5, a person may only be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder if they’re 18 years old or younger. Expansions have been made in the recent version of the DSM-5 to include that adults can be diagnosed with SAD, too.
A mental health professional is responsible for diagnosing a person with SAD based on the criteria indicated in the DSM-5. That’s why it’s important to approach an expert if you notice the symptoms of the condition in a loved one.
Separation Anxiety in Romantic Relationships
In adulthood, separation anxiety manifests more in romantic relationships than relationships with family members, friends, or co-workers.
When a person enters a romantic relationship, they eventually become vulnerable. All of their strengths and flaws are exposed to their partner. Because of their vulnerability, they may connect their sense of comfort, safety, and familiarity to your partner. This connection causes strong feelings to develop within them. Thus, the excessive fear of losing the person begins.
Vulnerability paves the way for someone to develop separation anxiety. You might become anxious about possibly losing the relationship. You could become jealous, possessive, and controlling.
Effect of Separation Anxiety on Mental Health
Separation anxiety may affect a person’s mental health in various ways. Some can have the condition and exhibit mild symptoms, while others may experience it severely.
A person living in fear might become more reactive over time if their decisions are all about not losing the person they’re attached to. Decisions made out of fear and anxiety are often based on adverse and imagined outcomes of the future. Because of that, having separation anxiety makes it harder to experience fun and enjoyable activities. You may not be able to form secure attachments in your relationships, either.
How to Cope With Separation Anxiety in a Romantic Relationship
Being interdependent is a must if you want a romantic relationship to last. Interdependence is the capability to be independent but still be deeply connected with another person. Here are some helpful strategies you may use to cope with SAD and be interdependent:
Spot the Symptoms
This article has listed the significant symptoms of separation anxiety disorder above. It’s important that you recognize them, talk about them with the people you trust, and seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
Acknowledge and Accept
Being aware that you have separation anxiety isn’t enough—you have to accept your condition as well. When you do so, only then will you be able to manage your fear properly.
Study the Healthy Relationships of Others
It’d be beneficial for you to understand how healthy and interdependent relationships work. Observing them would give you an idea of what you should aim for together with your partner.
Observing other couples shouldn’t make you jealous. Instead, it should serve as an inspiration and motivation for you and your partner to work on improving your relationship.
Believe in Your Abilities
Separation anxiety is manageable and temporary. It could improve if you become more mindful of your abilities. This means knowing your worth as a person outside of the relationship and knowing that you can survive even if your partner is temporarily away for work or other obligations.
Remind yourself that the separation isn’t going to last and that you’ll soon be reunited. Tell yourself that you’re a strong person. Everything will be alright when your partner returns. While waiting for them to come back, engage in enriching hobbies to make good use of your time.
Try Relaxation Techniques
Doing yoga or meditation can help ease out your anxiety. There are also other relaxation techniques that you can do, like deep-breathing exercises and muscle relaxation exercises.
Seek Professional Help
Aside from the previous suggestions, it’d be good for you to ask for professional medical advice from mental health professionals. They can diagnose and treat separation anxiety disorder with therapy or medication.
Management and Treatment
SAD is primarily treated through psychotherapy. Joining support groups and taking medication may also help ease symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT may help you pinpoint the behaviors and thoughts causing your condition to worsen. Therapy can help a person with separation anxiety change their way of thinking and reduce their apprehension. Undergoing group or family therapy is another option your doctor might recommend.
You can consider signing up for support groups for individuals with separation anxiety. A support group may help you discover coping techniques to reduce symptoms of SAD. You can turn to the people there when you’re scared of losing someone important to you.
Doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medication for individuals with separation anxiety disorder. It can be temporarily prescribed to help the person control severe symptoms. Long-term use of anti-anxiety medication isn’t recommended, however, since some types tend to be addictive.
Being physically apart from your partner can be challenging. You may experience a range of emotions that are hard to comprehend, including hopelessness and uncertainty of what could happen to the person you love while they’re gone.
If you want to have a healthy romantic relationship, you first have to learn how to trust. Trust that your partner will come back to you every day. Trust that their love for and commitment to you are real. If you can do that, you’re less likely to develop separation anxiety.
A romantic relationship requires hard work. If you want it to flourish, you have to put effort into it on a daily basis. In doing so, you’ll surely enjoy a healthy romantic life.
Counseling Now understands how separation anxiety can hinder you from fulfilling your everyday responsibilities. It is, after all, difficult to go on with life feeling fearful about being left alone. You don’t have to worry, though, because our team of mental health experts can help you resolve your separation anxiety issues.
Counseling Now is right by your side to give you the assurance that you’re not on your own. With us, you’ll always have someone you can lean on when you’re scared or anxious. Reach out to us today to learn more about our services.