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Ever had your child cling to your leg and bawl his/her eyes out when you try to leave for work or the store? Young children often feel threatened and unsafe when separated from their parent. In fact, separation anxiety is a normal part of development for children ages 6 months to 3 years.
But sometimes symptoms continue into late childhood — and even adulthood.
Yes, adults can struggle with this form of anxiety, too. They may experience high levels of distress, including panic attacks, when their loved one is out of reach. For instance, an adult may avoid a business trip because he/she can’t bear to be away from their spouse or child.
How do you know if it’s an anxiety disorder?
Children and adults with separation anxiety disorder are persistently worried about being separated from someone close to them. A child or adult with separation anxiety disorder may:
A child with separation anxiety may also:
What causes separation anxiety disorder?
The cause of separation anxiety is not yet known, but it likely involves a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental factors. It’s often seen alongside other anxiety-related conditions, such as panic disorder, social phobia and agoraphobia. It can also occur after a stressful life event, such as moving, divorce or the death of a loved one.
How is separation anxiety diagnosed?
A medical/mental health professional is needed to make a diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder. Generally, symptoms must persist for at least four weeks in children and six months in adults, and cause impaired functioning. Adult separation anxiety can begin in childhood or adulthood.
How is separation anxiety managed?
Separation anxiety can greatly interfere with daily life. Children may be less willing to participate in school, social activities and other experiences that are crucial to normal development. For adults, the anxiety may be so intense that it’s difficult to function in work and other important areas of life.
Treatment for separation anxiety disorder is similar to therapies used to treat other anxiety disorders and may include medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy) and exposure therapy.
Tips for parents
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for parents to survive separation anxiety:
If you’re concerned that your child isn’t adapting to being without you, talk with your child’s doctor about it.
If you are concerned about your own anxieties related to separating from a loved one, talk to your primary care physician, who may recommend professional counseling.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the U.S. In fact, more than 40 million adults and 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from an anxiety disorder in any given year.
Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.
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