Even the thought of leaving a cozy home or beloved friend and family behind can make a “big baby” out of an adult and trigger some level of anxiety.
This anxiety, however, becomes problematic when it starts to interfere with your ability to carry out your daily chores.
The purpose of this article is to provide tips on managing mild separation anxiety. However, if you are experiencing chronic anxiety, you should seek professional assistance for accurate evaluation and appropriate therapy.
What’s Separation Anxiety?
“Separation anxiety is assuaged by constant connection. Young people announce every detail of their lives on services like Twitter not to show off, but to avoid the closed door at bedtime, the empty room, the screaming vacuum of an isolated mind.”
– Jaron Lanier
Separation anxiety is a feeling of fear and emotional distress when a person is separated from a familiar or beloved individual, thing, or environment.
Separation anxiety when left unchecked and challenged can become a disorder. That is, “Separation Anxiety Disorder” (SAD), which can affect or prevent an individual from carrying out their usual activities. Although commonly associated with babies and young children, it can also affect adults.
When Goodbyes Are Hard: The Emotional Toll of Separation.
My father was very unhappy when my mother took a new job in another state. Despite the job’s potential to alleviate our money anxieties, he tried every trick in the book to convince her to stay home. Even after she left, my mother would call me and express her worry about my father’s sadness and worry due to her absence.
It is a common experience for adults to worry excessively about being separated from their significant other or family members, especially when they are getting older, sick, or have experienced a significant loss or trauma.
This anxiety can lead to difficulty being alone, and avoidance of activities that involve separation, such as;
- Going to work
- Going on vacation
- Leaving a pet behind
- Attending social events
- Going to the doctor or dentist
- Spending time in a different room from a loved one
Although tricky to manage, with proper knowledge and support, it is possible to overcome separation anxiety. But first, you’ve got to know the signs.
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The Harrowing Signs of Separation Anxiety
When you find yourself in unfamiliar environments or away from your loved ones, it’s not unusual to feel uneasy and lonely. These feelings can signal a deep and genuine connection with them.
However, while separation anxiety is a natural response to our desires or emotions, it can also be harmful to a significant degree. The symptoms of this unhealthy state can vary depending on the individual, but there are some common indicators to look out for. These include:
- Outrageous fear about losing or being separated from an attachment figure (such as a lover, spouse, parents or caregivers, or place of comfort).
- Irrational jealousy; This is usually the case when one’s partner spends a lot of time with other people or on work-related activities.
- A constant need for reassurance or contact with the ardor figure, even in situations where it may not be practical or appropriate.
- Physical symptoms, like headaches, diarrhea, or stomach aches, when faced with separation or the possibility of separation.
- Dread or hesitation to leave a person, group, or safe place, even for short periods.
- Difficulty concentrating or participating in other activities due to crippling anxiety.
- Difficulty sleeping alone or away from home.
- Overprotective parenting.
In some cases, someone experiencing separation anxiety disorder may go to great lengths to avoid being apart from their loved ones, such as constant communication or not leaving their side.
But, don’t conclude you have it until after a proper diagnosis by a licensed therapist.
Causes Of Separation Anxiety.
The precise cause of separation anxiety disorder is not entirely clear, however, a combination of psychological factors is believed to contribute to its development:
Shoddy Upbringing: The Attachment Theory Perspective [by John Bowlby]
The way you were cared for as a child can affect how you feel about separation as an adult. If you were neglected as a kid and didn’t receive enough attention and care from your parents or caregivers you may have an anxious attachment style. This can make you feel more edgy, worried, and fearful when you anticipate separation or detachment from your loved ones or a place of comfort as an adult.
In this situation; like a plant that needs a nurturing environment to grow, you need emotional support. A secure attachment to your significant others, and time to develop a healthy sense of independence that can help you cope with separation.
Negative Life Experiences: The Developmental Psychology Perspective [by Mary Ainsworth]
Adults can develop separation anxiety over time due to life experiences, such as;
- Changing place of work
- Moving to a new city
- Medical condition
And so on.
Learned Behaviour: The Behavioral Psychology Perspective [by Joseph Wolpe]
Here; separation anxiety disorder can be viewed as a learned behavior that is reinforced over time.
Let’s say, you get really scared and upset when you are away from your friend, partner, or family but feel better when they come back and get comforted. You might unconsciously learn that showing fear, misery, and desperation can get you the attention and care you need. And, this might cause you to unconsciously resort to tricks like pretending to be ill to keep your partner from leaving or crying to get them to call or text.
Cognitive Factors: The Cognitive Psychology Perspective [by Aaron Beck]
Cognitive factors such as beliefs, expectations, and perceptions can contribute to the experience of separation anxiety disorder in adults.
For example, if you have negative thoughts about separation, such as “I’ll never see my mom again,” or “She will break up with me once she meets someone better than me.” You are more likely to feel anxious and distressed when separating or separated from them.
Anomalies In The Brain: The Neuroscience theory [by Bessel van der Kolk]
Separation anxiety can also be linked to overwhelming activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain that processes emotions, including fear and anxiety.)
For instance, when you are away from a loved one, your amygdala can become active and release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, causing feelings of anxiety and panic. Without knowing how to manage these emotions, you may act impulsively and regret your actions later on.
If left unaddressed, it can get worse. In fact, the American Journal of Psychiatry reports that 43.1% of adults over 18 experience separation anxiety. So, if you experience intense fear and discomfort when away from your loved ones, which leads to panic attacks or nightmares, it’s crucial to consider the possibility of separation anxiety disorder.
4 Ways To Overcome Separation Anxiety.
Thankfully, separation anxiety is a common and curable condition. Some things you can do to alleviate separation anxiety include:
Find and Address The Root Of Your Anxiety.
To find the trigger for your separation anxiety, pay attention to how you behave when you are going to be separated or are already apart from your attachment figure. Think about any big changes or bad experiences that could be making your anxiety worse. That could be your trigger.
Disarm Your Anxiety Through Exposure.
Most anxiety is a result of an unfulfilled desire. The fear can be rooted in your innate desire for connection and belonging, as well as past experiences of loss or trauma.
So you must face and disarm your fears gradually. You can start small by practicing short periods away from your loved ones. Slowly expose yourself to a longer “alone time”.
In your alone time get exposure to meaningful metier. Read a book or learn something new. Take a walk or play games for relaxation. In essence, do something valuable for yourself.
However, acknowledge that attachment and detachment are natural parts of life and that a healthy balance is necessary for personal growth and development. By cultivating self-awareness, emotional regulation, and resilience, you can learn to manage your fears and anxieties around separation and form more secure and fulfilling relationships.
Reclaim Calmness And Confidence Through Tribal Communion.
Throughout human history, tribes have played a critical role. They’ve provided identity, protection, and resources, and have been instrumental in shaping culture and society.
In light of this, consider joining a group or community that is healthy and supportive. Doing so can provide a powerful sense of validation, understanding, and support.
By learning from others’ experiences and coping strategies, you can gain new perspectives and fresh ideas for managing your symptoms.
Ultimately, groups can offer a secure environment to practice socializing with others, building valuable social skills and confidence along the way.
[A wonderful example is the Pawns community.]
Go for Therapy:
Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore their anxieties, identify triggers, and develop coping strategies. With the help of a qualified therapist, you can gain insights into your thought patterns and behaviors and learn techniques to manage or alleviate your symptoms.
Note: therapy and medication can be used in combination to achieve the best possible outcome. While you may be hesitant to seek out these treatments, it’s important to remember that there’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, seeking out therapy and medication is a sign of strength and a commitment to your well-being.
In conclusion: “Take Responsibility”
Remember, you are the only thing that always stays with you, and others will leave eventually. To handle separations and other challenges in life, you need to take responsibility for your life and emotions. Doing this will give you the strength to handle anything that comes your way.
A mindful self-help writer and photographer