Disorders
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How to Manage Adult Separation Anxiety

Jenna Jarrold, MS, LAC, NCC
How to Manage Adult Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is often discussed in terms of children, or in some cases, pets. Separation anxiety in children is considered a serious issue as when a child is unable to be separated from parents, the likelihood he or she will miss out on crucial psychosocial development opportunities, and develop further anxiety problems later in life, increases significantly.

Separation anxiety occurs in adults as well, and can be an equally serious problem, so much so that psychologists have considered adding it to the diagnostic manual. Many adults suffer from separation anxiety issues and either may not be aware, or fail to seek treatment.  Thus, separation anxiety in adults is likely underreported, and a much more widespread problem than originally believed to be.  

From Childhood to Adulthood

Adult separation anxiety (ASA) may develop during childhood, or as a result of things experienced throughout adolescence and/or early adulthood. Many adults suffering from anxiety (separation and other kinds) suffered some sort abuse or neglect in their past. 

How Separation Anxiety Manifests in Adults

Separation anxiety, when extreme, is usually pretty easy to identify. Adults who have serious separation anxiety tend to have an unhealthy attachment to a person with whom they are close to, and experience intense anxiety and panic when having to separate from that person.  Yet, in less severe cases of separation anxiety, the signs may not be as obvious.  Some less apparent signs of ASA are: 

Because there are currently no diagnostic criteria for ASA, the discussion of ways it manifests is purely speculative.  Regardless, adult separation anxiety is a genuine problem, and affects the lives of countless adults.

Symptoms of Adult Separation Anxiety

In the discussion of adult separation anxiety, again, due to lack of concrete diagnostic criteria, many look to the symptoms of separation anxiety in children as a way to gain understanding. In children, symptoms of separation anxiety include:

One might also add the belief that the person cannot live without another person, or that their quality of life will suffer dramatically.

Because adult brains are far more developed than the brains of children, it is likely adult separation anxiety will reveal itself in different ways. Nevertheless, severe distress at the thought of being without someone is very probable to be a central sign of ASA, and some variation of the above list would likely fit into any diagnostic criteria.

How to Stop Adult Separation Anxiety

Because adult separation anxiety is only recently being recognized as a serious mental health problem, approaches to treatment are lacking. Yet there are some treatments that are thought to be potentially beneficial. If you believe you or someone you know has ASA, finding help is important. Once there is an awareness of the problem, identifying treatment is vital.

Clearly, more research on ASA is needed before solid treatment recommendations can be made.  Yet, talking to a medical or mental health professional is always a good place to start.

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