Understanding Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is a psychological condition that affects both children and adults. It’s characterized by intense feelings of anxiety and distress when separated from individuals who provide a sense of security, such as parents, guardians or partners. The condition doesn’t necessarily have to be long term or persistent. However, it can significantly interfere with day-to-day living and may require treatment.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder may vary depending on age, personality, and the individual’s background. However, a few common symptoms that cut across the board include:

  • Excessive worry when separated from loved ones
  • Physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, and nausea
  • Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, or trouble falling asleep
  • Refusal to go to school or work
  • Recurrent panic attacks when separation is anticipated
  • Clutching onto loved ones for dear life
  • Extreme outbursts of anger or sadness especially when facing unavoidable separations

If these symptoms last for at least four weeks in children, or at least six months in adults, the diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder is considered.

Causes Of Separation Anxiety Disorder

There’s no single cause of separation anxiety disorder. It’s usually believed to be the outcome of a combination of environmental, genetic, and physiological factors. Biological factors such as an overactive amygdala which is the brain’s fear center and the imbalanced serotonin levels, are believed to promote separation anxiety.

Additionally, overprotective parenting, family instability and recent stressful life changes such as moving houses, starting a new school or losing a loved one, can trigger separation anxiety in children. Pre-existing mood disorders like depression and anxiety can also contribute to the development of separation anxiety disorder.

Risk Factors

Although anyone can develop separation anxiety disorder, there are some risk factors that make certain individuals more susceptible to the condition. These factors include:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Overbearing parenting
  • Separation anxiety in childhood
  • Bereavement or separation from loved ones at a young age
  • Mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorder

Treatment Options

Treatment for separation anxiety disorder is available and most people recover fully with the right care. The aim of treatment is to ease the individual’s fears and concerns about separation, and improve their ability to function individually, socially, and academically.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a commonly prescribed form of counseling that focuses on the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to treat separation anxiety disorder. CBT lets patients learn how to recognize and change negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety, and to also develop new coping strategies. It usually involves one-on-one sessions with a therapist, and it can last several months.


Certain anti-depressants, more specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been found to be effective for the treatment of separation anxiety disorder. These medications help to regulate the levels of serotonin within the brain, which is believed to contribute to anxiety.

Other Therapies

Other forms of psychotherapy that can be helpful in the treatment of separation anxiety disorder include group therapy, family therapy, and interpersonal therapy. These therapies offer patients a chance to build a support network, learn from others’ experiences, and test newly acquired coping mechanisms.

Coping Mechanisms For Those With Separation Anxiety Disorder

It’s not uncommon for individuals with separation anxiety disorder to develop coping mechanisms that alleviate their symptoms of anxiety when facing situations that may trigger them. These coping mechanisms could include:

  • Creating a personal safety plan: This involves developing a plan that outlines who to contact in case of an emergency, and what steps to take when experiencing an anxiety attack.
  • Deep breathing or meditation: Practicing deep breathing or meditation in a quiet space can be helpful in slowing down rapid heartbeats and easing tension.
  • Distraction techniques: Engaging in a calming activity such as listening to music or watching a movie can help to redirect negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Seeking support: Seeking support from a loved one or a mental health professional can offer patients a chance to vent their worries and feelings, and also gain valuable insights and support.


Separation anxiety disorder is a common psychological condition that can be distressing for both the individual and their loved ones. It’s important to note that with the right treatment, most individuals with separation anxiety disorder can make a full recovery. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in improving symptoms and reducing the impact of the condition on day-to-day living. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of separation anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional.


FAQs about Separation Anxiety Disorder

What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a type of mental health disorder that results in excessive worry and fear when a person is separated from their attachment figure or home environment. It can occur in children, adolescents, and adults, and can lead to significant distress and impairment in daily life.

What are the symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder?

The symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder can vary depending on the age of the person affected. Common symptoms in children and adolescents include excessive worry about harm coming to oneself or their attachment figure, refusal to go to school or leave home, nightmares, and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches. In adults, symptoms can include excessive worry when separated from loved ones, avoidance of travel or being alone, and fear of losing their attachment figure.

How is Separation Anxiety Disorder treated?

Treatment for Separation Anxiety Disorder typically involves talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychotherapy, to help the person better understand and manage their fear and worry. Medications may also be prescribed by a doctor to help manage symptoms. In addition, making lifestyle changes, such as practicing relaxation techniques, improving sleep habits, and engaging in regular exercise, can also be helpful. It is important for individuals and their loved ones to seek professional help if they suspect they may be experiencing Separation Anxiety Disorder.


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