Understanding Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety Nov 25, 2023

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is more than feeling a bit sad when your loved ones leave. It’s a specific type of anxiety characterized by intense distress when separated from familiar people or places. This anxiety can affect people of all ages but is particularly prevalent in children. 

Separation anxiety, in psychological terms, is a specific form of anxiety disorder characterized by excessive and disproportionate distress when an individual is separated from a person or place to which they have a strong emotional attachment. This type of anxiety often involves persistent and intense worry about potential harm or loss related to the separation. Separation anxiety is most commonly observed in children but can also affect adolescents and adults. Separation Anxiety in The Golden Years: A Personal Journey

What Causes Separation Anxiety?

1. Fear of Being Alone:

Feeling scared of being by yourself or away from people you love.

This fear is like worrying that you might be left alone.

2. Important People in Children’s Lives:

For kids, this anxiety often comes from being scared of being away from their parents or the grown-ups who take care of them.

It’s like the worry that the people who look after you might not be there when you need them.

3. Close Relationships in Grown-ups:

In adults, separation anxiety can revolve around the people they’re close to, like family or friends.

Imagine feeling uneasy at being far from the people who mean a lot to you.

4. Changes in Life:

Significant changes, like moving to a new home, starting at a new school, or getting a new job, can make separation anxiety pop up.

It’s as if your mind says, “Wait, things are different now, and I’m not sure how.”

5. Missing Familiar Places:

Separation anxiety isn’t about people; it can also be about missing the places you know well.

Moving away from a familiar neighborhood or starting in a new place can make you feel lost and worried.

In Which Population Is It Most Common?

Separation anxiety is most observed in children, especially during their early years. It’s a natural part of development as kids learn to navigate the world and form secure attachments to caregivers. Yet, adults can also experience separation anxiety, particularly in stressful or challenging situations.

Risk Factors for Separation Anxiety

Certain factors may increase the likelihood of developing separation anxiety. Children born to parents with anxiety disorders may be more susceptible. Additionally, significant life changes, trauma, or a history of loss can contribute to the development of separation anxiety in both children and adults.

Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

1. In Children:

Excessive Distress Before Separation: Getting very upset before you must be away from your parents or caregivers. It’s like feeling super sad or worried even before they leave.

Nightmares About Separation: Having scary dreams about being away from the people you love. Imagine having bad dreams that make you feel afraid of being alone.

Physical Complaints: Saying your head hurts or your tummy aches when you know you’ll be apart from your family. Sometimes, your body might feel bad because your mind is worried.

2. In Adults:

Persistent Worry about Loved Ones: Always thinking and worrying about the people you care about, even when they’re not around. Your mind can’t stop wondering if they’re okay.

Fear of Being Alone: Feeling scared or uneasy when alone. Imagine being afraid of being alone, even for a short time.

Difficulty Functioning Alone: Finding it hard to do things or enjoy activities without the people who are important to you. Your usual activities become burdensome when you’re away from those you love.

3. In Older Adults:

Heightened Concern for Loved Ones: Always feeling concerned about the well-being of family and friends. It’s like a constant worry about the safety and happiness of those close to them.

Reluctance to Be Alone: Expressing a solid aversion to being alone, even for short periods. I am feeling uneasy or anxious at the thought of spending time in solitude.

Difficulty Coping with Absence: Struggling to manage daily activities or find enjoyment when separated from significant others. Feeling a sense of discomfort and unease that affects the ability to function.

Changes in Social Behavior: Noticeable shifts in social interactions, such as withdrawal from social events or increased dependence on others. Preferring to stay close to familiar faces and places rather than exploring new situations.

Sleep Disturbances: Experiencing sleep disruption, including difficulty falling or staying asleep. Nighttime restlessness and frequent waking may be indicative of separation anxiety.

Physical Symptoms: Manifestation of physical complaints such as headaches, muscle tension, or digestive issues. These symptoms may arise as a result of emotional distress associated with separation.

Treatment and Management Strategies

Separation anxiety is a treatable condition, and various strategies can help individuals cope:

1. Therapy:

For Both Adults and Children: Therapy is a helpful way for people of all ages to deal with separation anxiety. Talking to a trained professional can make a big difference in understanding and managing these feelings.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a specific type of therapy that works well for separation anxiety. It helps you figure out and change the negative thoughts that make you worry when you’re apart from loved ones. In therapy, you learn new ways to think about being separated, making it less scary and more manageable.

2.Gradual Exposure:

Desensitizing to Anxiety: Gradual exposure means taking small steps to get used to being apart from someone. This is often used for kids in behavioral therapy and can work for adults, too. You feel less anxious by practicing being away for short periods and increasing the time.

It’s like learning to ride a bike – you start with training wheels (short separations) and take them off (longer breaks) as you get more comfortable.

3. Establishing Routines:

Predictability and Security: Having a regular schedule and doing things in a particular order can make you feel safe and secure. Routines provide predictability, reducing the uncertainty that can trigger anxiety.

Especially Helpful for Children: Knowing what to expect each day – like when it’s time to go to school or bedtime – helps kids feel more in control.

Beneficial for Adults Too: Even as grown-ups, routines can create stability in our busy lives, making it easier to handle separations.

4. Medication:

Considered in Severe Cases: In challenging situations, a mental health professional might suggest medication to help with separation anxiety. This is usually considered when other methods, like therapy and gradual exposure, aren’t enough.

Temporary Support: Medication isn’t a cure, but it can be a tool to help manage symptoms while working on other strategies. It’s like using medicine to relieve a sore throat while also taking steps to prevent getting sick again.

In Conclusion

Separation anxiety is a common and understandable human experience. Whether you’re a parent observing it in your child or an adult grappling with your emotions, understanding the causes and recognizing the signs are the first steps toward effective management. With the proper support, separation anxiety can be navigated, allowing individuals to build resilience and enjoy healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

About author

Karuna Kaul is psycho socio clinical psychologist, who works with all age group people. Her profession motivates her to serve people who are facing behavioral issues. She has over 8 years of experience and has successfully established credibility in the areas of counselling and wellness. Assessment and behavioral analysis and training and coaching. She has been an active advocate of mental health awareness. And all her endeavors in the field are primarily focused on educating more and more people about Mental Health concerns and promoting Holistic Wellbeing. She has done master in clinical psychology PG Diploma in counselling and guidance and certified in drug addiction counselling Also she has done neuro medicine psychology from London University, Kent College of United Kingdom. With an experience of six years, she had worked with various organization which provides mental health services.