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Separation Anxiety in Adults | Treatment + Tips For Coping

Decades ago, a friend of mine got married. She was wildly in love with her husband and couldn’t stand to be apart from him. Normal newlywed stuff, right?

But as they transitioned into married life, she found she couldn’t be away from him. She constantly turned down invitations that would require her to separate from her spouse. And she hated every time he went out with friends and feared he was cheating on her, despite a lack of evidence, until the thought made her physically ill.

She refused to cultivate personal interests and hobbies, even when intrigued by them, fearing they’d take her away from her husband. When she mentioned it to her doctor, she learned that separation anxiety in adults is a common and powerful disorder!

Understanding Separation Anxiety in Adults

Separation anxiety is often associated with children, but it’s important to recognize that adults can also experience this condition.

As you learn more about adult separation anxiety, you’ll find that it’s a mental health issue that can affect many different aspects of your life. In this section, we’ll provide a brief overview of separation anxiety in adults, including its symptoms and causes.

Basic Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Adults

Adult separation anxiety disorder, also known as SAD, is a psychological condition characterized by excessive fear or anxiety about separating from those you are attached to.

This stress can be triggered by a variety of situations, such as being away from your partner, family members, or close friends. It’s a type of anxiety disorder that can significantly impact your mental health if left untreated.

Some common symptoms of separation anxiety in adults are excessive worry about losing a loved one or even the thought of being separated from a loved one, constant need for reassurance, and physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches when separated from attachment figures. In more severe cases, individuals may experience panic attacks, trouble concentrating, fear of being alone at all, nightmares about separation, or difficulty sleeping.

Causes of Separation Anxiety in Adults

There are several risk factors that can contribute to the development of separation anxiety in adults.

Childhood experiences, such as a history of childhood separation anxiety, can lead to an increased risk of developing the condition. Other potential causes include traumatic experiences, genetic predisposition, personality traits, environmental factors, and underlying mental health issues.

If you suspect that you or someone you know might be struggling with adult separation anxiety, it’s essential to seek professional help.

Treatment options may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both to help manage symptoms and improve overall mental health. Keep scrolling for details on each treatment option.

Separation Anxiety in Adults | Treatment + Tips For Coping

Effects of Separation Anxiety on Relationships

When you’re experiencing separation anxiety in your relationship, it’s important to know the impacts it can have on both you and your loved ones. Separation anxiety can manifest in various ways, causing emotional and functional problems that can strain relationships.

One of the primary effects of separation anxiety is the persistent fear of being alone or losing a loved one.

This fear can create an intense attachment to your partner, which might feel overwhelming for both of you. As a result, you might find yourself constantly needing reassurance from your partner, which can be exhausting for them and may lead to tensions in your relationship.

Experiencing separation anxiety can also make you reluctant to engage in activities or events that require you to be apart from your loved one.

This reluctance might limit your personal growth and cause feelings of resentment in your relationship. Your partner may feel restricted, while you might feel left out, both leading to an increased risk of issues within your partnership.

In some cases, adults with separation anxiety might struggle with handling the loss of a loved one.

The intense fear and attachment can make the grieving process more complicated, as it may be harder to come to terms with the reality of the situation. This might make it challenging to move forward and heal.

To manage separation anxiety, it’s essential to recognize these effects on your relationship and consider helpful coping strategies. You might try communicating openly with your partner, seeking professional guidance, or exploring various self-care techniques to alleviate the symptoms and improve your connection with your loved one.

Impact on Quality of Life

Separation anxiety in adults can not only affect your relationships, it can also greatly affect your overall quality of life. It’s important to understand how this disorder can manifest in various ways and impact your well-being.

The constant stress and anxiety brought about by separation anxiety in adults may lead to feelings of depression and sadness.

This can make it difficult for you to enjoy your daily activities and engage in social interactions. In some cases, your mood can be further impacted by nightmares, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep and causing even more emotional turmoil.

Not only does separation anxiety affect your mental health, but it can also have physical repercussions. The stress caused by the disorder can lead to a greater risk of headaches, diarrhea, and nausea.

These symptoms can make it challenging for you to maintain a normal routine and take care of your basic needs. In turn, this can further exacerbate the anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.

Separation Anxiety in Adults | Treatment + Tips For Coping

Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety in Adults

To diagnose separation anxiety in adults and differentiate between normal anxiety and a separation anxiety disorder, a mental health professional will typically refer to the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 has well-defined diagnostic criteria that will help in understanding whether your symptoms align with separation anxiety disorder or fall under a different anxiety-related issue. They will consider various factors like the duration and intensity of the anxiety, as well as the impact it has on your daily functioning.

It’s important to note that everyone can feel anxious sometimes. But when these symptoms of anxiety start to disrupt your life and relationships, you should consider reaching out to a professional.

Remember, it’s never too late to seek help and take control of your mental well-being. Stay mindful of your feelings and risk factors, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support when needed.

Connection to Childhood Separation Anxiety

It’s important to understand the link between childhood separation anxiety and adult separation anxiety. Separation anxiety often starts in childhood and is a normal stage of development for infants and toddlers. 

Young children typically outgrow separation anxiety by about 3 years of age. However, it can sometimes persist into adulthood or even re-emerge later in life.

Childhood separation anxiety is characterized by excessive fear, concern, and worry about being apart from parents or caregivers.

This can manifest even during the anticipation of separation, causing young children and even older children significant distress. The presence of this childhood anxiety may lead to a greater risk of developing anxiety disorders in adulthood, such as generalized anxiety disorder.

The transition from childhood separation anxiety to adult separation anxiety can be influenced by various risk factors.

In times of stress, you might feel an intense fear that something terrible will happen to the important people in your life. This could lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, affecting both your personal and professional life.

It’s also worth noting that childhood separation anxiety disorder may be a risk factor for multiple anxiety syndromes in adulthood. This implies that if you experienced separation anxiety as a child, you might have a higher likelihood of struggling with other anxiety-related issues as an adult.

To cope with adult separation anxiety, it’s crucial to recognize its connection to your childhood experiences.

Acknowledging this link can help you better understand your feelings and guide you in seeking appropriate support and treatment to manage your anxiety. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and it’s never too late to seek help and improve your overall emotional well-being.

Associated Disorders

While some people experience separation anxiety disorder on its own, many others will find that it coexists with other associated disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition in which you experience excessive worry and anxiety about everyday situations. This constant anxiety can interfere with your daily life and make it difficult to carry out tasks or maintain relationships.

If you have GAD, you might have trouble focusing, feel tired or irritable, and have difficulty sleeping. It’s important to reach out for help and talk to a mental health professional who can guide you through appropriate treatments.

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is another type of anxiety disorder that is sometimes associated with separation anxiety in adults.

If you have Panic Disorder, you may experience unexpected and recurrent panic attacks, which are episodes of intense fear that cause physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shortness of breath. These panic attacks can be triggered by a variety of situations, and the fear of experiencing a panic attack may even lead to avoidance behaviors or feelings of distress.

As with GAD, it’s essential to seek professional help to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that involves intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) which lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions) to help manage the anxiety caused by those thoughts. While OCD might not directly relate to separation anxiety, they both fall under the umbrella of anxiety disorders and can sometimes coexist.

If you notice that your separation anxiety is accompanied by obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, it’s crucial to discuss your symptoms with a mental health professional, who can help determine the right course of treatment for you.

Separation Anxiety in Adults | Treatment + Tips For Coping

Treatment Options

So…how can you treat separation anxiety adults? The good news is that you have lots of options!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment option for addressing separation anxiety in adults. This therapy helps you identify and change your negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with your anxiety.

With the assistance of a therapist, you will learn new coping strategies, develop problem-solving skills, and build your self-esteem, ultimately reducing your symptoms of separation anxiety.


In some cases, your doctor might recommend medication to help manage your separation anxiety. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Antidepressants: Like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which regulate serotonin levels in your brain, improving your mood and reducing anxiety.
  • Benzodiazepines: These medications help you relax by reducing the activity of your central nervous system. However, they should be used with caution, as they can be habit-forming.
  • Anti-anxiety medication: These medications can provide short-term relief from anxiety symptoms while you work on long-term solutions in therapy.

It’s essential to consult your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of these medications, and to follow their guidance on proper usage.

Group and Family Therapy

Participating in group therapy, family therapy, or support groups can offer an effective way to address separation anxiety.

Sharing your experiences and coping strategies with others who suffer from similar issues can provide comfort and valuable insights. Additionally, involving family members in therapy can help them understand the impact of separation anxiety on your life and how they can best support you.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is another therapeutic approach that can be beneficial for those with separation anxiety.

This therapy focuses on teaching you skills to manage your emotions, tolerate distressing situations, improve communication, manage environmental factors, and build healthy relationships. By incorporating these strategies into your daily life, you can minimize the impact of your separation anxiety.

Research and Development

As you venture into the world of separation anxiety in adults, it’s imperative to understand its basis and the latest findings in the field.

Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition that has been primarily associated with children. However, recent research has shown that adults can also suffer from this disorder, experiencing intense, persistent fears of being separated from their loved ones.

One crucial development in the understanding of adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) occurred when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) began acknowledging ASAD as a separate condition from its childhood counterpart. This allowed mental health professionals to diagnose and treat the disorder in adults more effectively.

Investigations into separation anxiety in adults have yielded valuable insights.

For example, the National Comorbidity Study Replication revealed a lifetime prevalence of 6.6% for ASAD. Also, symptom differences between children and adults were found to be minimal, suggesting a similar underlying pattern between both populations.

Incorporating validated assessment tools has become crucial for mental health professionals in diagnosing and treating separation anxiety disorder. These evidence-based treatment modalities allow for tailored therapeutic approaches to cater to the unique needs of each individual affected by the disorder.

As you can see, the research and development in the area of separation anxiety in adults have grown significantly in recent years, paving the way for more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment options. By staying informed about the latest advancements, you can better understand and navigate this complex mental health landscape.

Separation Anxiety in Adults | Treatment + Tips For Coping

Once my friend received her diagnosis of a separation anxiety disorder, she was able to work with her doctor and therapist to not only reduce her SAD symptoms dramatically, but improve her overall quality of life.

Today, she’s not anxious to be away from her husband. In fact, she’s ventured out into her own interests and hobbies and is happier than I’ve ever seen her.

Separation anxiety in adults in common! You’re not alone in this and there are lots of solutions out there.

So talk with your doctor or mental health professional to make your own plan today. You’ve got this!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can separation anxiety in adults be treated?

There are a variety of treatments available to help alleviate separation anxiety in adults. These may include therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy, as well as medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.

It’s crucial for you to consult with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Do relationships often trigger separation anxiety?

Yes, relationships can sometimes lead to the development of separation anxiety in adults.

When you form a close emotional bond with someone, it’s possible that you may experience feelings of anxiety and distress when separated from them. This can happen in romantic relationships as well as close friendships and family relationships.

It’s essential to find healthy coping mechanisms and seek professional help if needed.

What methods, such as CBT, are effective for this condition?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment method for separation anxiety. This form of therapy focuses on helping you recognize and change your negative thought patterns while providing you with coping strategies for dealing with the fear of separation.

Other effective therapies might include exposure therapy, which involves gradually facing the situations that trigger your anxiety, or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which focuses on mindfulness and acceptance of your emotions.

How does separation anxiety manifest in adult-parent relationships?

Separation anxiety in adult-parent relationships can present itself in various ways, such as excessive worry over the parent’s well-being, a reluctance to leave their side, or an inability to make decisions without their input. This can be particularly challenging for adults who need to establish independence or navigate changing family dynamics, such as moving to a different city or getting married.

How is separation anxiety different between adults and teens?

Separation anxiety is generally more widely recognized and diagnosed in children and young adults than adults. However, adults can experience separation anxiety, manifesting in similar symptoms such as excessive worrying, uneasiness, and even physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches.

One key difference is that adults may be more adept at hiding their anxiety or seek refuge in unhealthy coping mechanisms in an attempt to hide their struggle.

What signs should I look for if I suspect separation anxiety in an adult?

If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing separation anxiety, look for signs such as excessive worry and distress about being separated from loved ones, constant thoughts about the safety of the attachment figure, reluctance to be alone, difficulty sleeping without the attachment figure nearby, and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches.

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