What is separation anxiety disorder?
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (e.g. a parent, caregiver, or siblings).
It is most common in infants and small children, typically between the ages of 6–7 months to 3 years, but can affect adult as well if untreated. Separation anxiety itself is a natural part of the developmental process which indicates healthy advancements in a child’s cognitive maturation and should not be considered a developing behavioral problem.
SAD on the other hand is an inappropriate and excessive display of fear and distress when faced with situations of separation. The anxiety that is expressed is categorized as being atypical of the expected developmental level and age.
What are the separation anxiety disorder symptoms?
If separation anxiety is so excessive that it interferes with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem: separation anxiety disorder. Telltale signs are if the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, recurrent, lasting at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents and typically 6 months or more in adults. SAD may be evidenced by three (or more) of the following symptoms.
Specific symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are:
What are the causes of separation anxiety disorder?
Children with separation anxiety disorder tend to come from families that are close-knit. When separated from home or major attachment figures, they may recurrently exhibit social withdrawal, apathy, sadness, or difficulties of concentration.
Separation anxiety disorder in children occurs when a child feels unsafe in some way. This can be anything that may throw your child’s world off balance, upset your child’s normal routine, or make him or her feel threatened. Take a look and try to pinpoint the causes. This way you’ll be one step closer to helping your child through his or her struggles.
The following are common causes of separation anxiety disorder in children:
How to deal with separation anxiety in children?
Here are some useful advices for dealing with separation anxiety in children. The following tips can help you create a stable and supportive environment for your child.
What about separation anxiety in adults?
Adult separation anxiety (ASA) can be a serious problem, although many adults who are prone to it may not even know about it. Separation anxiety may have developed during childhood, or it may have become a problem due to the experiences you've had as an adult. Many of those with anxiety, and those that have suffered through abuse or neglect find some or all of the symptoms of ASA.
What are the separation anxiety symptoms in adults?
The symptoms in children listed above are also commonly seen in adults with separation anxiety however, there has yet to be a clear diagnostic tool set forth to better understand separation anxiety in adults. Many times adults may label these feelings as mere generalized anxiety rather than being able to pinpoint them as being related to separation anxiety. Some of the symptoms common in adults with separation anxiety include:
Adult separation anxiety can manifest in lighter forms too. Here are some examples of behaviors that could potentially relate to ASA:
How to treat separation anxiety disorder?
If anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may need professional treatment—but there is also a lot that you as a parent can do to help (see above).
Child psychiatrists, child psychologists can diagnose and treat separation anxiety disorder. Keep in mind that children with separation anxiety disorder frequently have physical complaints that may need to be medically evaluated. Specialists can address physical symptoms, identify anxious thoughts, help your child develop coping strategies, and foster problem solving. Professional treatment for separation anxiety disorder may include talk therapy, play therapy, family counseling, school-based counseling and medication in some cases.
Counselling for adult separation anxiety disorder
Non-pharmacological treatments are the first choice when treating individuals diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. Counseling tends to be the best replacement for drug treatments. The same treatments that help children with separation anxiety may help adults as well. ASA can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as systematic desensitization (learning to be alone in a way that is calming and better for mental health). CBT can be an effective treatment helping patients in understanding and being able to recognize their reactions, and help to manage and eventually reduce their overall response to anxiety-inducing situations. CBT therapy has the following components:
Any form of treatment you choose you should also make sure that you're treating any other anxiety and stress issues as well, since these tend to exacerbate ASA symptoms.
Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.