Separation Anxiety In Adults: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Cope
You’ve shared a home with someone: a partner, friend, or family member. Over time, you’ve grown accustomed to their presence and enjoy having them around. But you dread thinking about when they’ll have to go. It makes you panic and get anxious. You might have separation anxiety.
In children, it is more commonplace and well-researched. It’s a serious issue because it can affect their development and have lasting implications on their perceptions of life.
Adult separation anxiety is less known and sometimes downplayed. However, it’s an equally serious problem that can impact one’s quality of life if not resolved..
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs in children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years. During this period, children become more secure and independent while developing close and meaningful relationships with their parents or caregivers.
Also called “separation distress,” “separation anxiety,” and “abandonment anxiety,” the condition is characterized primarily by an intense, irrational fear of being away from home or loved ones.
A child’s separation anxiety can be triggered by a parent going away from home for work, school, or vacation. An adult may have experienced SAD as a child but not realize they still have symptoms decades later.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Adults?
The cause of separation anxiety disorder is a combination of factors, including genetics, biology, and environment.
In some cases, it can be triggered when a family member has a severe illness or dies as well as other traumatic experiences such as witnessing violence or abuse.
Children who are separated from their parents may develop the condition. The onset of SAD usually occurs between 6 to 12 months old.
What Are the Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Adults?
The most common separation anxiety symptoms in adults include:
- Obsessive thoughts about being away from loved ones or home and fear that harm will come to those you love
- Fear is so intense that it disrupts your daily life with work, school, or social activities
- A strong desire to be near a parent or caregiver when not at home
- Avoidance of public places such as shopping centers, schools, and other situations where leaving may be necessary; this can make normal living very difficult
- Fear or panic when you’re away from home; this can manifest as irritability, nausea, shaking and sweating
- A feeling of loneliness that makes it hard for you to be on your own
- Difficulty sleeping because of thoughts about being separated from loved ones while asleep
What Are the Risk Factors?
Some people are more likely to develop adult separation anxiety than others. Risk factors for this disorder include:
- Having a family history of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, personality disorders, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, depression, or other mental health condition
- Having obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by experiencing abuse, neglect, or the death of a loved one
- Being a caretaker for someone who is chronically ill
- Going through a significant life change such as divorce
H2: How Is Separation Anxiety in Adults Treated?
Separation anxiety disorder can be treated with talk therapy and medication. With treatment, symptoms are likely to get better.
Treatment may include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
The most effective and fastest way to treat is through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches people how to change their negative or irrational thoughts and behaviors, as well as helps them identify new ways of thinking which will be positive.
This technique works to help people identify and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Because specific thoughts trigger anxiety, your therapist may coach you on how to prevent them from happening or make sure that they don’t take over the majority of your thought process during stressful situations.
Family therapy may also be helpful for treating this disorder.
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if your symptoms are severe. These medications can help ease symptoms in some people but have side effects for others.
Support groups are also a viable option for people who have separation anxiety in adults. Knowing that there is hope and that others have been able to overcome their struggles may give you motivation and encouragement to get through your own situations as well.
How to Deal With Separation Anxiety in Adults?
Here are some things you can do to deal with your separation anxiety:
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques work best anytime. However, relaxation can be especially helpful when dealing with separation anxiety in adults because by practicing it you help your body respond more calmly and appropriately during stressful times.
Here are some ways you can practice relaxation:
- Breathing exercises
- Take a nap
One way to help ease separation anxiety in adults is by taking steps towards separating yourself from loved ones on purpose without causing any undue stress. This is especially true for people in codependent relationships.
For example: if you are going away for a few days, start counting down until your departure date so that you don’t feel anxious about it beforehand. You can also prepare yourself mentally by thinking about what you will need when you get there (newspaper, cell phone charger, etc.).
Or if you are going away for a long trip, for example, to visit friends and family overseas, start preparing yourself by packing your suitcase in advance or going through the itinerary so that you don’t feel anxious about it.
Practice Self-Soothing Techniques
Self-soothing techniques help adults deal with separation anxiety because they give them something to focus on when times are hard, which means less pressure is placed on loved ones who also want to help these people cope.
Here are some self-soothing techniques:
- Listening to music
- Going for a walk
- Doing something creative, like drawing or writing poetry
- Having a massage or getting your hair done
Have a Daily Routine
A daily routine that works best can be identified based on what makes you most comfortable. Going through your day in a predictable fashion can ease some of your anxiety. Including exciting activities can help you look forward to your day, especially when your loved one may not be around you.
Practicing self-awareness is a way to escape from the feelings of separation anxiety. Identifying why you exhibit separation behavior can be helpful for finding ways that could help prevent it from coming up again (i.e. going to a therapist, practicing relaxation techniques).
When feeling anxious, you can start by being aware of your current emotions and finding an active distraction. Focus on breathing so that you don’t feel like they’re going to collapse because of feeling short of breath. Try visualizing peaceful and calming scenes in order to stop yourself from overthinking negatively about yourself or your loved ones.
Going into therapy can help you with separation anxiety in adults because the two of you will work together and determine if there are any underlying issues that cause anxiety. These can include but are not limited to: a history of trauma, early childhood experiences (abandonment, abuse, etc.), or past relationships.
The therapist will guide you through the process and help you identify any causes behind your anxiety symptoms so that they can be treated effectively.
The Bottom Line
Separation anxiety in adults is not uncommon and there are steps you can take to help relieve the anxiety. If you or a loved one is experiencing separation anxiety, getting help can make living with the disorder feel easier.
Online therapy on Calmerry is particularly useful for developing coping mechanisms and eventually overcoming this issue.
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has been working in healthcare since 2017. She mainly treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, grief, identity, relationship, and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience is focused on individual and group counseling.
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