Contrary to common belief, separation anxiety in adults is almost as prevalent as in children. Since separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is associated with adolescents, adults often fail to get the proper diagnosis and treatment for the disorder. SAD can not only have an impact on individual lives, it can also negatively affect the social lives of sufferers.
Separation anxiety can begin as early as six months of age. The worry of being separated from their parents or carers is quite normal, healthy, and part of the development process among children up until four years of age. When this worry turns into full-blown anxiety over being apart from loved ones and doesn’t abate over time as they get older, causing them trouble in maintaining the various spheres of life is when separation anxiety becomes a separation anxiety disorder.
This article briefly introduces the concept of separation anxiety disorder in adults, symptoms, effects of separation anxiety in relationships, along with tips for coping with it!
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Separation anxiety disorder, as the name suggests, is the irrational fear of being isolated from loved ones or people one is emotionally bonded with. Quite natural among children aged six months to 3-4 years, it usually fades away. However, if it continues into late childhood, it can be a warning sign for the possible onset of adult separation anxiety disorder in the future.
Separation anxiety in adults is classified as an anxiety disorder. By late childhood, teenage, and adulthood, if these feelings persist, they are seen as unnatural and inappropriate because, by this time, they play no role in the development process whatsoever, nor is it healthy. In fact, by this age, a healthy individual must have become accustomed to being apart from loved ones for short periods of time without feeling excessive worry and stress.
Examples of separation anxiety in adults can include nervously anticipating going to work or business trips alone, trepidation at being apart from loved ones at school or during traveling, recurrent nightmares about being separated from friends, family, parents, siblings, etc.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Adults
Separation anxiety in adults can be debilitating and can disrupt daily life activities. Symptoms of separation anxiety in adults include:
- Excess levels of stress and anxiety.
- Unusually irrational distress about being separated from loved ones.
- Nightmares and dreams about being isolated.
- Fear of loneliness.
- Feeling the need to be aware of loved ones’ whereabouts at all times.
- Obsessing about something bad happening to a loved one.
- Avoiding social situations that might separate them from family or friends.
- Being unnecessarily controlling of others.
It is common for physical symptoms to accompany the emotional symptoms when thinking about or in a situation that may trigger separation anxiety. These may include:
- Panic attacks.
- Shortness of breath.
- Frequent urination.
Separation Anxiety in Relationships
Separation anxiety in relationships — specifically romantic relationships — among adults has been identified as the intense, unconscious fear of being away from one’s partner for prolonged periods of time. Research conducted to study physical separation in adult attachment relationships suggested a link between physical separation from a romantic partner and symptoms akin to withdrawal and extreme anxiety in participants.
For adults suffering from a separation anxiety disorder, it can be tough to maintain romantic relationships due to their intense fears, anxiety, and constant need to be in close proximity with their partners at all times. This can often translate into controlling behavior or breaching into each other’s personal space, jeopardizing the stability of a relationship.
Spending time apart is common in relationships and so is missing each other. Separation anxiety goes beyond simply missing your partner when they are not around. SAD can be severe and may hinder you from performing everyday tasks with ease, clouding your judgment with unfounded fears of separation. It can include simply dreading going to work, letting them go to work, or it can include feeling uneasy while traveling without them, worrying your partner might get injured or harmed, persistently worrying your partner might abandon you, etc.
Causes of Separation Anxiety in Adults
When separation anxiety and fears of abandonment persist beyond the usual age, it is considered an anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety disorder in adults usually begins manifesting during late childhood. Negligence and poor facilities to cope with it can aggravate the disorder, eventually exhibiting later in life during adulthood. Potential causes of separation anxiety in adults include:
- Trauma or loss that resulted in separation; like the death of a loved one, divorce etc.
- Family history of anxiety disorders.
- Attachment issues resulting in insecure attachments.
- Trauma resulting from facing rejection or abandonment.
Tips For Coping With Worrying
Separation anxiety disorder can feel like being stuck in a pit of dread, anxiety, stress, and worry about things and events out of your control. The constant worrying can result in diminished energy and trouble performing everyday tasks due to the obsessive thoughts clouding your mind. It can mentally and physically cripple you. So, it is smart to target the component of separation anxiety disorder that has the ability to leave you most exhausted: worry and anxiety.
Here are some tips for coping with the constant worrying and battling anxiety that stems from separation or thoughts of separation:
De-Clutter Your Environment and Mind
Clutter can affect your performance at home, at work, at school, or at any other place. Removing clutter from your surroundings can have a positive impact on your overall mood. Decluttering your environment is linked to lower stress levels and a calm mindset because a tidier environment is inspiring and soothing.
Additionally, decluttering your mind can greatly reduce your anxiety and irritability as well. Letting go of past traumas, going through positive affirmations and cutting out negativity from your mind can do wonders for you. Plus, you will have something to keep busy with instead of worrying about being left alone!
Regular Physical Activity and Exercise
It is backed up by several studies and research that physical activity and exercise is always the first step for the minimization of and prevention of chronic physical and mental health conditions. Studies suggest that merely five minutes of aerobic exercises every day can encourage anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects along with reducing tension, promoting better sleep, and improving mood.
Worrying and stressing are a major part of separation anxiety in adults. 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity every single day can have a positive impact on overall mood throughout the day and reduce worry and stress among patients with SAD.
Breathing Exercises and Meditation
Studies reveal breathing exercises and meditation can majorly aid in reducing anxiety and stress. According to research, different emotions are linked to different breathing patterns, for instance, anxiety, fear, or anger are linked with harsh or irregular breathing while happiness, calmness, and a relaxed feeling are linked with regular and soft breathing.
Breathing exercises work by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system by altering your breathing rhythm. As a result of slow and controlled breathing, the heart rate is slowed down, signaling a relaxed response to the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, breathing exercises and meditation can calm you down and reduce worry.
Keep a Journal
Journaling is a major part of mental health therapies to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Luckily it is not difficult to keep a journal at all. Journaling has been evidenced to aid in reducing stress, anxiety and distress among other positive impacts.
Additionally, journaling is a fun activity that can increase joy and happiness as well. Some ways one can keep and maintain a journal for stress relief is by working through your anxieties and worries by writing them down, pondering over them, processing them, working out possible ways to rectify them, comparing them with your strengths and planning and preparing to work on them. Starting with only 15 minutes of journaling per day can work wonders in reducing worry related to separation anxiety disorder.
Get Professional Help
Similar to other anxiety disorders, separation anxiety can be treated through therapy and professional help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is highly recommended to manage separation anxiety in adults. CBT for separation anxiety disorder works by helping patients identify the thoughts and behaviors that are the culprits behind the worsening of their SAD symptoms, allowing them to analyze their fears rationally and coming up with ways to manage and control them.
Sometimes group therapy and family therapy are also recommended to help patients with SAD. To combat separation anxiety in relationships, couples therapy could also be of benefit. Anxiety medications, support groups, and counseling are also helpful treatments.
Living with separation anxiety disorder can be tough for both, the sufferer and their loved ones. Separation anxiety in adults can not only negatively impact individual life, it can impact social life, physical health, and mental health as well. Luckily, it is easily identifiable. Once identified, stress-reducing activities can be incorporated into a daily routine to successfully keep worried and anxiety at bay.