Separation anxiety is most commonly found in infants and toddlers and typically manifests itself in distress about being away from home or close caregivers.
Most children grow out of this by the age of three, but it can develop later in life to cause significant problems when leaving to go to school or work. Separation anxiety in adults can seriously impact your day-to-day life, as things as simple as leaving the house can become difficult.
What causes separation anxiety?
There is no one cause for separation anxiety, which can make it slightly more difficult to treat. However, it is usually caused by some sort of life event which was particularly stressful for the individual.
Other risk factors include genetics, certain anxious temperaments, and environmental factors which may be deemed threatening such as living in an area prone to natural disaster.
In adults, separation anxiety manifests slightly differently than it would in an infant, as there is a greater understanding of what is concerning the individual.
Some of the key signs of adult separation anxiety may be:
- Constantly worrying about losing a loved one to some kind of illness, natural disaster, or simply that something bad will happen to them.
- Feeling intense anxiety leaving the house or being away from loved ones.
- Beginning to refuse to leave the house due to a fear of being separated from a loved one or that something bad will happen.
- Not wanting to be alone without someone else in the house.
- Reluctance to sleep away from home without a loved one nearby, or refusal to sleep away from home without a loved one nearby.
- Recurring nightmares about something bad happening to those close to you or simply being separated from loved ones.
- Headaches, stomach aches, any other physical pains when the anticipation of being separated from a loved one is suggested.
Separation anxiety is not something that will simply go away on its own and can lead to much more serious anxiety disorders in the future if left untreated.
The good news is that there are a few things that you can do at home which can help to ease the anxiety of being away from loved ones for a prolonged period of time.
Start small. Separation should be incremental, to begin with. Try being in separate rooms at first, move around the house or the neighborhood before traveling any great distance from the affected individual.
If you are practicing separation with a child, make sure that you practice after a feed or after a nap as children are much more susceptible when they are tired or hungry. Separation is much easier when the child is relaxed and happy.
Create a ‘goodbye ritual’
Rituals can be greatly reassuring and a special routine for hugs, kisses or waves can be very helpful. Try not to make it too elaborate, don’t stall and try to keep the drama to a minimum, but do make it fun.
Putting a little bit of enjoyment into a goodbye ritual can ease the sting of the separation.
Make sure to follow through on promises
If you promise to meet someone with separation anxiety or promise a child that you will be home at a certain time, make sure that you follow through on these promises.
For anyone who is anxious about being away from those they love, the problem will only be exacerbated if they are surprised by a lack of consistency.
Maintain familiarity in the unfamiliar
Being in new spaces can be incredibly stressful, for children and adults. For children, encouragement to bring a familiar object with them to feel or to play with can greatly ease the anxiety of unfamiliar spaces.
In adults, being able to talk to or call someone familiar can help to ease into an unfamiliar space.
Separation anxiety is not a natural form of development in children. Although most children will experience anxiety when separated from loved ones in early development, this should not last further than preschool.
Take the time to understand your child’s issue, whether it be the fear of being alone or the fear of being somewhere new and the intensity of the anxiety they are feeling. It may be that it is a phase they will grow out of, be taking the time to understand whether you may need to seek medical attention.
In adults, separation anxiety has much clearer parameters and although there are methods of easing this anxiety at home, it is recommended that you seek medical treatment to get to the bottom of the issue.
Support for separation anxiety can come in a number of forms, from a group and individual therapies to medications.
Although separation anxiety can impact your quality of life, the good news is that separation anxiety can be very well managed with the right treatment and support.
If you have concerns that you or someone close to you is suffering from separation anxiety, approach them carefully and urge them to contact a medical professional.
By Francesca F.