What are the Signs of Separation Anxiety in Adults?

When you hear the term “separation anxiety”, you might naturally think of young children being separated from their parents as they go to daycare or start school.  This can be an understandably upsetting experience for a child that only knows life with his/her parent.


You might be surprised to learn that adults can also experience a form of separation anxiety, although it is much more commonly identified in children.  How can you tell if you or a loved one is experiencing this psychological condition?


Although adults might not cry or show outward signs of distress as children do, they’re actually struggling with similar fears and feelings of anxiety when they must separate from a person or persons they’re attached to.  What, exactly, is Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder (ASAD) and what are the signs?


What is Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Most of us experience feelings of sadness and loss when we are separated from a loved one for a long period of time, but ASAD is more pronounced, producing a strong, negative emotional reaction any time a person is separated from the one they’re attached to, such as a spouse, a child, or a close friend.  This psychological condition revolves around feelings of intense anxiety when separation of any length occurs, even if the other person is merely going to work or to the grocery store, for example.


Katherine Shear, MD, a Columbia University professor of psychology who has spearheaded research pertaining to ASAD, revealed in a 2006 study that that more adults than children suffer from some form of separation anxiety.  While childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder is estimated at 4.1%, respondents to a national mental health survey showed that ASAD affects approximately 6.6% of adults.


Even more interesting is that 77.5% of cases started in adulthood, as opposed to carrying over from childhood separation anxiety.  80% of ASAD cases were found to begin under the age of 30, in the late teens or 20s, and the condition seems to affect more women than men.


Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Adults

While most adults won’t start kicking and screaming when separated from a loved one, even if they suffer feelings of anxiety, ASAD can worsen and become debilitating if left untreated.  It manifests as feelings of anxiety that may center on the fear of harm or loss.  Those who suffer from ASAD often harbor a strong belief that “something bad” is going to happen to the person they’re attached to whenever they’re not together, and this is the source of their separation anxiety.


In time, these intense feelings of fear and anxiety can begin to affect patterns of behavior.  People suffering from ASAD may feel the need to be in constant contact with the person they’re attached to, calling them throughout the day and even rushing to wherever that person is to make sure they’re okay if they don’t answer phone calls or other communications immediately.  They may feel the need to participate in activities they don’t like just so they can remain close to the other person, giving up their own hobbies and sacrificing other relationships in the process.


When separated from the person they’re attached to, those with ASAD may find it difficult or even impossible to function because they are so preoccupied with worry and fear.  They may experience social withdrawal, extreme sadness, and even panic attacks when separation occurs, and in some cases, the stress can manifest as physical symptoms like digestive upset, headaches, and other aches and pains.


The main characteristic in diagnosing ASAD is the level of impact it has on a person’s life.  If the separation anxiety significantly impairs the ability to function for a period that lasts more than six months, the condition likely qualifies as ASAD.


Treating Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder

The treatment for ASAD is similar to treatment for other anxiety disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy and possibly supplemental therapies like family therapy, group therapy, and so on.  In some cases, medications that treat anxiety or depression may be helpful.  However, the first step toward finding a pathway back to a life free of fear and anxiety is to diagnose adult separation anxiety.


With help from a reputable organization like The Attach Place, which focuses primarily on strengthening relationships, adults and families can address the issues holding them back from having loving and fulfilling relationships.  Learn more by calling 916-403-0588 or requesting information online.

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