What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a fear of being apart from a person, from multiple people, or from a pet. Separation anxiety is common in young children, usually those aged 2 years or younger, because they can’t yet process the idea that their parent will come back soon when they leave. However, the condition can also appear in adults surrounding a child, spouse, pet, or other loved one. Oftentimes, adults with separation anxiety fear that their loved one’s will get in harm’s way. Many children who have separation anxiety go on to struggle with the condition as an adult.
Separation anxiety is classified as an anxiety disorder. The development of separation anxiety may suggest an underlying mental health problem such as social anxiety, anxiety, or panic disorder. This condition may also exacerbate mental health concerns and lead to social isolation along with poor performance at work or school. The physical symptoms that may accompany separation anxiety can inhibit one’s day-to-day life.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
There are a handful of key mental, emotional, and physical signs of separation anxiety. Mental and emotional signs include:
- Extreme distress at the idea of being separated from a loved one
- Overwhelming fear of being alone
- Extreme concern that the loved one will be in danger of getting hurt when left alone
- Overwhelming need to always know the whereabouts of a loved one
- Fear of or refusal to sleep alone
- Fear of or refusal to partake in anything that would lead to separation
- Emotional outbursts
Potential physical symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Sore throat
Symptoms of separation anxiety that are unique to children include:
- Frequent and extreme emotional outbursts
- Severe crying
- Constantly hanging onto parents
- Difficulty with or refusal to interact with other children
- Lacking performance in school
- Extreme resistance to attending school
- Disrupted sleep and/or nightmares
- Extreme fear of sleeping alone
How is Separation Anxiety Treated?
Separation anxiety is mainly treated with therapy, namely cognitive behavioral therapy. Group therapy can also be helpful for this condition. Severe cases of separation anxiety may benefit from doctor-prescribed medications for treatment.
Cognitive behavior therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a method of therapy that aims to pinpoint the habits and thought patterns that are causing mental, emotional, or even physical strain. Cognitive behavioral therapy for separation anxiety may help the impacted individual adopt healthy thoughts and behaviors to reduce feelings of anxiety and the resulting symptoms.
In children with separation anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy may benefit both the child and the parents. This therapy method can help parents learn strategies to lessen separation anxiety in their child.
Group therapy can be helpful in providing support to individuals with anxiety. Affected individuals may benefit greatly from learning management strategies from others with separation anxiety.
Anti-anxiety drugs may help in the management of separation anxiety. These medications mainly help to ease the severe symptoms of anxiety to improve day-to-day functioning. Unfortunately, anti-anxiety medications aren’t an effective cure for separation anxiety and are mainly successful when taken in conjunction with therapy.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.