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4 min read

How to Recognize Separation Anxiety in Adults

A woman experiencing anxiety

When most of us think about separation anxiety disorder, we picture toddlers clinging to a parent or refusing to talk to a stranger. However, separation anxiety disorder can occur at any age, and it may have a significant impact if unaddressed. In this article, we'll discuss the impact of separation anxiety disorder in adults, as well as how to identify and treat it.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a mental health disorder that is often recognized in the context of childhood separation anxiety but can be experienced by adults as well. Separation anxiety in adults can occur by itself or alongside other anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, or panic disorder.

What are the differences between separation anxiety in adults and children?

Between the ages of six months and three years, separation anxiety is a part of the developmental process for infants and children. If a child's separation anxiety lasts into late childhood, then a pediatrician or child psychiatrist may diagnose them with separation anxiety disorder.

For both children and adults with separation anxiety disorder, symptoms can be similar. In the case of children with separation anxiety, they may have an extreme fear of being away from their parents or caregivers. This fear may make them less willing to participate in occupations such as school or play. With separation anxiety in adults, the individual may experience fear of being away from their spouse or children. This can disrupt their occupations, including work and social activities outside of the home and family.

Psychological Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety in adults and children can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. Some common psychological symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Persistent and excessive worry that their loved ones or themselves will be harmed or fatally injured
  • A persistent reluctance or refusal to be away from loved ones
  • Anxiety attacks or depression connected to this constant worry over family and self
  • A difficulty or inability to sleep away from loved ones due to anxiety or worry

Physical Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Certain physical symptoms of separation anxiety can be present in both children and adults with separation anxiety. These can include:

  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Body aches and pains
  • Panic symptoms such as increased heart rate and shallow breathing

To be diagnosed with adult separation anxiety disorder under the criteria of the diagnostic and statistical manual, an individual must experience symptoms of separation anxiety for at least six months, and they must impair functioning in daily life.

Who is at risk of separation anxiety?

Some common scenarios can put a person at risk for separation anxiety disorder. Often, this disorder can be observed in individuals who have lost a loved one, or who have just experienced major life stress, such as moving away from home to go to college. Separation anxiety in adults can be more likely to occur in people who experienced separation anxiety as children. Some other risk factors that may contribute to separation anxiety include:

  • Being diagnosed with other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or social anxiety disorder.
  • Being diagnosed with other mental disorders, like a personality disorder
  • Having overbearing parents
  • Childhood trauma
  • An insecure attachment style

Differential Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety in Adults

To diagnose adult separation anxiety disorder, a physician or mental health professional will complete a thorough examination, including taking a medical history. They will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms, and you may work with a therapist for several sessions before you receive a diagnosis.

Symptoms of separation anxiety must match the criteria laid out by the diagnostic and statistical manual; they must cause a clinically significant impairment of day-to-day function and relationships; and they must be present for more than six months.

How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Adults

There are several effective treatment options for separation anxiety disorder. Your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your symptoms, as well as the recommendations of your doctor or psychiatrist.

Separation anxiety disorder is often treated with talk therapy, which commonly includes a form of behavioral therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). These forms of therapy are designed to identify negative patterns of thought and behavior and use coping mechanisms to guide them in more positive directions.

Group therapy and family therapy are also common additions to individual therapy for this mental health condition. The therapist will work with close family and friends to help them understand the excessive worry, fear, and recurrent excessive distress involved with this disorder, so that they can best support the person who is experiencing separation anxiety disorder.

For some people with separation anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders, medication may be prescribed to help control psychological and physical symptoms. This can include anti anxiety medication, antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or benzodiazepines.

Getting Treatment for Separation Anxiety Disorder

The persistent and excessive fear that comes along with anxiety disorders such as separation anxiety disorder can be debilitating if not addressed. But treating separation anxiety is possible. If you notice that you are having separation anxiety symptoms, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Adult separation anxiety is not something that you have to deal with, it is something you can manage with the right kind of help. Of all the mental disorders, anxiety disorders are comparatively common, and treatment plans are typically very successful. The biggest challenge for treating separation anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders is not seeking help.

To prevent separation anxiety disorder from causing upheaval in your life and relationships, talk to a therapist about how to best manage symptoms of separation anxiety, and take the first step toward living your life free from debilitating stress and worry over your loved ones.

Treating Separation Anxiety in Brooklyn

If you suspect you may be experiencing the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder, but are unsure of what to do about it, reach out for help today.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level psychotherapists are experienced at diagnosing and treating all kinds of anxiety disorders, including separation anxiety disorder.

Give us a call today, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right Brooklyn anxiety therapist to offer their expertise and support, and share the tools you need to feel better and start living your life without fear.

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