MD: While many people associate separation anxiety with children, adults can experience the condition, too. Learn more about separation anxiety in adults.
Separation Anxiety in Adults: Sings, Causes, and Treatments
Separation anxiety disorder is a common term when we refer to childhood problems. Essentially, it refers to the situation when the child cannot bear to be separated from its parents, is likely to develop other anxiety issues later in life, and is also expected to have some challenges in psychosocial development.
However, separation anxiety can affect adults, too. It is a serious condition and, unfortunately, it remains undiagnosed in many cases — either because adults do not seek treatment (such as therapy) or they are not aware of it. Separation anxiety can lead to extreme stress and toxic behaviors that affect the quality of your life or your loved one’s.
The next sections cover the important aspects related to separation anxiety in adults and what you should do if you or your loved one struggle with the symptoms.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
This condition is mostly underreported, but it can be easily identifiable when it is severe. Adults who suffer from severe separation anxiety often develop unhealthy relationships with their loved ones and experience intense panic or anxiety when they have to separate from them.
While this could be apparent, there are other less obvious signs. Many people may say about an adult who suffers from separation anxiety that they are overcontrolling or overprotective — this is how the person expresses their fears related to separation.
In general, separation anxiety is associated with extreme jealousy. This is because adults who suffer from separation anxiety have a fear of abandonment or irrational thoughts about infidelity. However, extreme jealousy can also be the cause of other, unrelated issues, including lack of trust.
Separation anxiety in adults is not strictly related to relationships or love life. In fact, very strict parenting might be a less obvious sign that parents suffer from this condition. In this case, the parents are so afraid of their children leaving someday that they interfere in their life and try to control each aspect.
The way adults treat their relationships is a major indicator. However, separation anxiety can impact any type of relationship — including friendship or familial relationships.
Many adults tend to be stuck in toxic or unhealthy relationships because of the fear of abandonment or being alone, including codependent relationships where one person is the caretaker and the other one takes advantage.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety can have numerous risk factors or triggers. It may be a parent, child or a partner who moves away. This anxiety may also be caused by underlying mental health problems, including the fear of change typical to autism spectrum disorders or delusions as a result of psychotic disorders.
People who suffer from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) are more likely to show signs of separation anxiety. Most adults have coexisting conditions, including:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- agoraphobia (fear of going outside)
- personality disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In addition to these coexisting conditions, separation anxiety in adults also tends to be correlated with childhood traumas (including abuse), the death of a family member in childhood, and is even more prevalent among females.
Sometimes, adults can develop separation anxiety after a major life event. For instance, people who go through a divorce or whose child leaves home may trigger this condition.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety symptoms in adults may vary as there are no set criteria. The American Psychiatric Association states that the main symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- heightened distress when you are separated from your loved ones (including pets)
- extreme fear of being alone or
- worrying that another individual will be harmed if left alone
- excessive need to control their loved one’s whereabouts at all times.
In certain cases, when the person knows they will be separated from their loved one soon, physical symptoms can also appear.
How to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Adults
Separation anxiety disorder is typically treated through psychotherapy. The most common evidence-based method is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
The professional therapist helps the person to identify the underlying behaviors and thoughts that trigger separation anxiety. In some cases, this can be in the form of family therapy or group therapy. Parents are also taught parenting techniques that can decrease the severity of separation anxiety.
If you suffer from acute separation anxiety, a doctor can also prescribe temporary anti-anxiety medication to help you feel better. However, this is not a long-term solution because drugs can be addictive and do not treat the underlying causes of separation anxiety disorder.
The recommended approach is to engage in mental therapy and improve the mindset, so you can reduce and control the symptoms.
Apart from these, there might also be other strategies to help you cope with separation anxiety. For instance, you can create an action plan that helps you control your symptoms and refer to it each time you feel stressed.
Some of the main components of an action plan include:
- calm breathing exercises
- engaging in positive thinking
- relaxation techniques
This plan does not eliminate anxiety, but it may turn it into a manageable condition.
Unfortunately, separation anxiety in adults has been recognized as a mental problem recently, so there is insufficient research on appropriate treatments.
If you think that you or someone you love has this condition, you should seek help and use a personalized approach that can address your symptoms.
In most cases, separation anxiety is associated with children. However, more and more people experience symptoms in adulthood. These can be triggered by:
- different life events
- underlying mental conditions
- many other specific factors
It may also impact all types of relationships, including familial or love relationships, and even friendships.
Similar to other types of anxiety disorder, adult separation anxiety can put you under tremendous stress, sabotage your relationships, and have an overall negative impact on your quality of life.
Fortunately, this condition has now been recognized, and many professionals can use a broad range of techniques to help you manage it. Once awareness sets in, it is recommended to discuss with a professional or engage in traditional or online therapy on Calmerry.
If the condition affects your loved one, you can also opt for family therapy. You will be able to find solutions together and enjoy a long, healthy relationship while supporting your mental well-being.
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.
Follow Kate here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-skurat-5348381b9/