Separation Anxiety: When is it More Than Just a Phase?

Anxiety and Depression

Separation anxiety is a pretty common phenomenon. Most people associate children with this type of anxiety. In young children aged six months to three years, it’s a normal part of development, and usually passes when there’s a healthy attachment between caregiver and child.

When children continue to experience symptoms into late childhood, it can sometimes be diagnosed as separation anxiety disorder, defined by the Mayo Clinic as “recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loved ones.” 1

When adults experience these symptoms, they can also carry this diagnosis. Separation anxiety disorder impairs adults and children from participating in activities such as work, school and social events. It’s important to address the underlying issues that cause this disorder so that children and adults who suffer from it can lead healthy, successful lives.

Let’s look at some causes and risk factors of separation anxiety disorder, some signs and symptoms, and how it is treated.

Who is at risk for separation anxiety disorder?

This disorder can be caused by traumatic or stressful life events. It can also have genetic influences. It usually begins in childhood, but can continue on into adulthood if left untreated. Risk factors include environmental factors that cause separation, family history, certain temperaments, or major life events such as death or divorce.

Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Extreme sadness when not around loved ones
  • Unfounded fears that something will happen to loved ones
  • Difficulty sleeping, focusing on daily activities
  • Depression
  • Physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as headaches, body aches and pains, digestive issues
  • Refusal or great reluctance to be separated from loved ones

How can separation anxiety disorder be treated?

Separation anxiety disorder can be treated with anxiety counselling. The methods used are similar as the ones used in many anxiety disorders. There are several types of therapy available that can be very effective, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and dialectal behavior therapy.

Often, medication can be used to deal with some of the symptoms, in conjunction with anxiety counselling and lifestyle support.

Lynn Valley Counselling offers evidence-based strategies for families and individuals dealing with separation anxiety disorder and many other issues. We welcome you wherever you are on your personal journey. We can help you work through your concerns and acquire the tools you need to live a healthy, happy life.

1 Mayo Clinic, Separation Anxiety Disorder, 2021

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Looking for some support and guidance? Lynn Valley Counselling – we provide individual, couples, family, and group counselling for children, teens, and adults. Our registered therapists are trained in diversity awareness and committed to combating barriers to mental health. We’re here for you. Let’s talk.

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