Navigating Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a normal stage of development for infants and toddlers. However, most children outgrow this stage by the age of 3.

When symptoms persist, this may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder, which can also develop in teenagers and adults.

Whether you or a loved one are experiencing separation anxiety, you don’t need to navigate the stress of this disorder alone. There is a range of treatment options available, helping individuals of all ages better cope with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear.

What Is Separation Anxiety?

In children, separation anxiety is a regular part of development. When a child is young, they do not yet understand that when a parent leaves; they are coming back. This is normally seen in children between the age of six months and three years. If symptoms continue into late childhood, your child may be diagnosed with child separation anxiety disorder. Once symptoms interfere with normal activities, like going to school or making friends, and lasts for months at a time, this is when parents should seek a professional opinion.

This disorder can then continue into adulthood. Anxiety may increase when an individual is away from a person, persons, or in some cases, their pet.

Symptoms are similar, whether anxiety is occurring in children or adults. However, there are marked differences in the type of attachment style.

  • Separation anxiety in children is most often associated with being away from parents or caregivers. This can make it challenging for children to get involved in social experiences and events, including going to a friend’s house for a night.
  • In adults, separation anxiety causes anxiety when spending time away from spouses, partners, or children. Instead of school or young social events, work functions and other responsibilities may be impaired.

Separation Anxiety in Adults

Although separation anxiety is commonly associated with children, it is also seen in adults.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, of those who experience separation anxiety, 43.1% develop their condition after the age of 18.

When seen in adults, it is often caused by an extreme fear that bad things will happen to those they love. Although researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes this disorder, it’s typically seen alongside conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

To be diagnosed with separation anxiety as an adult, you must showcase symptoms that impair functioning and continue for at least six months.

The cause of separation anxiety depends on several factors. In adults, this anxiety can be triggered when a loved one moves away or major changes happen in one’s life, such as divorce. Their condition may also indicate an underlying mental health disorder. For example, one study found that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to develop separation anxiety.

Other common risk factors include:

  • Being female
  • Experiencing childhood adversity, including the loss of a family member
  • A history of trauma, including abuse

Separation Anxiety Symptoms

Symptoms vary from one individual to the next.

One of the most common symptoms is high levels of anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks.

People living with separation anxiety may withdraw socially, show extreme sadness, and have a hard time concentrating when their loved ones are away. Unfortunately, this can lead to unhealthy behaviors that affect those they love most. When exhibited in parents, children may experience strict and over-involved parenting. This can affect the parent-child relationship long-term. For those who have anxiety when away from their partner or spouse, this can lead to what appears to be a controlling or overbearing relationship. However, these behaviors are based on how the affected individual expresses their fears. Again, this scenario can be very unhealthy for those involved.

Other symptoms include:

  • Unjustified fears that loved ones (or yourself) will be harmed when you’re not with one another
  • Extreme hesitancy to leave the proximity of those they love
  • Fear of sleeping away from a loved one
  • Physical symptoms during times of distress, including headaches, aches, nausea, and diarrhea
  • Heightened fear of being left alone
  • Needing to know where a loved one or spouse is at all times

How to Deal with Separation Anxiety

When adults experience separation anxiety, there is a range of treatment options. In many cases, individuals will participate in a combination of the following.

Separation anxiety can significantly affect your quality of life, as well as your loved ones’ quality of life.

Help is available. 

Corner Canyon Health Centers Can Help!

Corner Canyon Health Centers offers evidence-based and compassion-driven treatment in a healthy, home-like environment.

Being a mental health and addiction treatment center, Corner Canyon treats a wide range of conditions, including separation anxiety. Co-occurring conditions are another key area of focus. For example, someone suffering from separation anxiety may also live with depression or substance abuse disorder.

Help is just a phone call away. Contact us to get started today!

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Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.