At what age does separation anxiety typically emerge?

The very first separation fears occur at an early age: 8 months, 12 months, and  approximately 18 months. Children usually cry when their parents need to leave them for some time because they are afraid to lose their parents forever. They also start crying when the parent comes back. It happens because their return reminds the time when the parent was away. Separation anxiety emerges at the age of 2-3. During this period the child typically feels shy with strangers, but gradually separation gets easier. The intensity of anxiety varies from day to day. 

Adults may also experience separation anxiety. It happens when they get separated from loved ones. This experience is usually not so overwhelming, but sometimes adults struggle with a separation anxiety disorder. 

What is separation anxiety disorder in adults?

Separation anxiety disorder occurs when a person feels excessively anxious when gets separated from those individuals to whom he/she is attached. This individual can be a blood relative, a partner, a spouse, or a friend. Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by constant worry about being apart from a loved one. Sometimes, one has nightmares and physical symptoms, such as aches or nausea. 

Separation anxiety symptoms in adults

Separation anxiety symptoms include:

– uncontrolled worries about losing attachment figures;

– experiencing too much distress;

– constant worries about events that can lead to separation;

– fear to stay alone;

– reluctance to leave home;

– inability to go to sleep without an attachment figure;

– often nightmares related to the theme of separation;

– physical complaints: headaches, vomiting, stomach aches during separation from an attachment figure.

What causes separation anxiety in adults?

The reasons leading to separation anxiety are unique for everybody. Most adults suffering from this disorder say that they’ve always felt a little bit anxious when being apart from an attachment figure. These individuals are usually emotionally sensitive, so the anxiety is easily triggered by circumstances when a loved one leaves. Additionally, separation anxiety can be connected to another mental health disorder. In some cases, separation anxiety occurs in adults who are very controlling and overprotective.

How to treat separation anxiety in adults?

Like other disorders, separation anxiety is treated with the help of psychotherapy. For instance, cognitive-behavior therapy can be very helpful in overcoming worries and distress. The main aim of CBT is to identify thoughts and behavioral patterns that cause anxiety. A CBT therapist teaches some psychological techniques that help to get rid of fears related to separation. 

Support groups can also be an effective way to reduce anxiety. Sharing negative experiences and getting psychological aid helps to cope with this disorder.

If anxiety is too intensive, you may turn to medical help. In this case, doctors may prescribe some medications to overcome acute symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. However, it’s a temporary solution, sometimes it is really needed.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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