Separation anxiety in adults: 200 shocking truths

Do you get an uneasy sense of wariness whenever a family member/ a close friend/your pet/ someone whom you are close to are bidding you good bye? Does this feeling come more often than not whenever you are getting separated from somebody?

Well, you may be experiencing from separation anxiety disorder. Adults with separation anxiety have extreme fear that bad things will happen to people who matters to them.

If you are facing separation anxiety, it can manifest itself physically like you may get nausea, headache or sore throat before /after separation. In some cases, your work and other responsibilities may become impaired.

You must have seen the way a child clings to his parents whenever they are going away.  Generally, people associate separation anxiety with children, adults can experience the condition as well.

You may develop this disorder when you were a child. However, it is also possible that you have developed this condition as an adult.

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder in adults?

Separation anxiety is type of an anxiety disorder. It is absolutely normal to be concerned about the well-being and safety of your loved ones.

However, when this worry starts severely affecting your daily activities; it then becomes a matter of concern. If you are experiencing the following mentioned symptoms; you may be experiencing this disorder:

  • Persistent and unusual distress about being away from a person/pet/home/loved ones
  • Baseless fears that something bad will happen to your loved ones, or yourself like they might get lost or kidnapped by somebody or a fatal illness might occur to the loved ones.
  • You will exhibit physical symptoms like nausea, abdominal cramps, headaches etc.  knowing and anticipating that fact that you will be separated from your loved ones soon.
  • You are not willing to leave home because of fear of separation and need your loved ones to be around you all the time.
  • excessive worry that another person will be harmed if they leave them alone
  • You worry so much about the loved ones that you need to know about their surroundings and well being all the time.
  • You have started worrying so much that you are getting repeated nightmares about being separated from your loved ones.
  • You are not willing to sleep away from home without a parent or other loved one nearby fearing that something will happen to them.
  • You may suffer from depression because of the heightened level of anxiety.

It is probable that people facing this disorder are socially withdrawn since they refuse to leave the proximity of home and loved ones. They become extremely sad and have difficulty in concentration when they are separated from their loved ones.

Note that you are experiencing separation anxiety disorder only when any, some or all of the above mentioned symptoms continue for at least six months. There is so much distress in this disorder that it will start affecting your social, occupational, or academic life.

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What causes separation anxiety disorder in adults?

Separation anxiety disorder most often begins in childhood, but may continue into the teenage years and sometimes into adulthood.

  • Sometimes, separation anxiety disorder can be triggered by life stress that results in separation from a loved one.
  • It has been sometimes seen that separation anxiety disorders tend to run in families. However, the research has been unable to prove that why some family members have it while others don’t. Also, it is not entirely clear how much of this may be due to genetics and how much is due to stress which might have developed later in life.
  • It is also possible that separation anxiety in some adults is caused due to some another underlying mental health condition. These may include delusions from psychotic disorders or fear of change relating to an autism spectrum disorder.

People with separation anxiety disorders may also suffer from other types of anxiety related disorders like social anxiety, panic disorders etc.

As a parent, they may be overprotective about their child and may be quite dominant/controlling in nature when it comes to their spouse. This is because of the underlying anxiety that something might happen to them or they are anxious about being separated from them.

Risk factors

Separation anxiety disorder most often begins in childhood, but may continue into the teenage years and sometimes into adulthood. Risk factors include:

  • You may be more likely to develop adult separation anxiety disorder if you were diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder as a child.
  • In some cases; a divorce which had been traumatic may cause you to develop separation anxiety.
  • Research has suggested that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to experience separation anxiety as an adult.
  • People with separation anxiety disorders sometimes also suffer from other types of anxiety related disorders like social anxiety, morning anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder etc.
  • You have a family history of relatives suffering from some or other types of anxiety disorder. You are at higher risk for developing this disorder at some or the other stage in life. Genetics may play a role in this.
  • Females are at higher risk to suffer from separation anxiety than males.
  • In childhood, you may have seen death of a close family member or have gone through abuse which has left an indelible distressing mark on your mind.
  • Certain life events such as going to school or college etc.

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When you should see a doctor

Separation anxiety disorder usually won't go away without treatment and support from others and can lead to panic disorder and various other types of anxiety disorders into adulthood.

If you have concerns about your child's separation anxiety, talk to your child's pediatrician or other health care provider.

How is it diagnosed?

Earlier, separation anxiety was considered to be a condition suffered only by children. However, lately this definition of separation anxiety has expanded to include adults as well.

To diagnose this condition, your healthcare professional will conduct a comprehensive examination and use the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V). According to the DSM-V, one of the first signs is excessive fear or anxiety about being separated from people you’re close to. The anxiety and fear has to be excessively inappropriate. Additionally:

  • symptoms in adults must be present for a minimum of six months
  • symptoms are so severe that they affect social functioning and responsibilities
  • symptoms cannot be better explained by a different disorder

You may need several sessions with a therapist before receiving a diagnosis. Your health provider may also talk to close family members or friends to help them better understand how your symptoms affect your daily life.

Complications

Separation anxiety disorder causes major anguish, mental and emotional suffering and problems functioning in social situations or at work or school.

Disorders that can accompany separation anxiety disorder include:

  • Other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depression

How to treat and manage symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder?

In order to get this disorder treated, the first step is to seek a professional help. You need to talk to your doctor or health care professional about your symptoms. Your healthcare professional might ask you a series of questions and check your health history to rule out any unrelated physical diseases which might be causing you these symptoms.

As per his diagnosis and understanding, your healthcare professional may refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, or counselor.

The first step to effective treatment is to have a diagnosis made, usually by a mental health specialist. Various methods, techniques and medications which are helpful in treating/ preventing this disorder are given below for your understanding and reference:

Psychotherapy

A type of psychotherapy (sometimes called as talk therapy) known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially useful for treating separation anxiety disorder. This therapy aims to help a person identify their thoughts and behaviors and reaction to situations that are making their separation anxiety worse.

Your therapist will try to give you an understanding of how this separation anxiety is affecting your life and give a perspective of how it can be made better by reducing your anxiety level. Your therapist will try to understand the severity of your symptoms and work out ways to reduce them.

Parents may also learn additional parenting techniques that can reduce their separation anxiety.

Sometimes an individual can benefit from group therapy and family therapy.

Anti-anxiety medication

Anti-anxiety medications are really helpful and they start working right away in lessening your anxiety and fear level.  However, since these medications are powerful; they are generally not advised for a longer period of time. They are once started so that you can meanwhile look for other methods of treatment.

Patients have reported to develop tolerance towards this drug and the same dose might not work for them. In order to get the same effect of less anxiety; they have been given higher and higher doses of this medicine.

Some people may even become dependent on them. In order to avoid these situations, generally healthcare professionals advise these anti-anxiety medications for short periods.

Lifestyle changes

Bringing change to your lifestyle and knowing and managing the stressors are advised in the long run. Reducing the stress in your life and brining an overall positive attitude will really help in coping with this disorder.

A person should engage in therapy so they can begin to change their ways of thinking to reduce the incidence of separation anxiety.

Support groups

People who are suffering from this disorder have also given feedback that support groups have been really helpful in treating this disorder. They meet and talk and interact with people having this same disorder. People who join these groups can gain help with learning techniques for reducing separation-related anxiety.

Prevention

There's no sure way to prevent you from not developing separation anxiety disorder, however these recommendations may help.

  • Seek professional advice as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce symptoms and prevent the disorder from getting worse.
  • Stick with the treatment plan to help prevent relapses or worsening of symptoms.
  • Seek professional treatment if you have anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns.
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A Word

Adult separation anxiety can have an onset in childhood or adulthood. Similar to other anxiety disorders, adult separation anxiety can affect your quality of life, but the condition can be managed with treatment. The anxiety can be so intense that it is hard for someone to function in daily life due to fears and worries about separating from another person.

Talk to a medical professional if you suspect you or someone you love is living with this disorder.

With the right support, treatment and self help; you will be able to manage the symptoms of this disorder better.