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.