Dr. Sudeshna Roy, Applied Psychology, School of Humanities, Management and Social Sciences
Have you ever felt anxious and distressed because you were separated from your loved ones or do you fear concerning separation from your attachment figure? Well, that may be due to your separation anxiety. American Psychiatric association (APA,2000) defined separation anxiety as “developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached”.
National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) revealed a high lifetime prevalence of childhood-onset for Separation Anxiety Disorder(SAD) of 4.1%, but a higher lifetime prevalence of 6.1% for adult-onset SAD , with 36.1% of childhood-onset cases persisting into adulthood and as many as 77.5% of adult cases reporting first onset after the age of 18 (Shear et al., 2006).
However, all those feelings of anxiety and distress which we feel related to separation, don’t fall under the categories of separation anxiety disorder. Some episodes of heightened separation anxiety from attachment figures are parts of normal development and it can indicate development of secure attachment relationships. Separation anxiety is common among children. Separation anxiety can start at 6 to 9 months, and can last through early toddler hood. It typically coincides, when baby understands the concept of object permanence. Separation anxiety disorder prevalence decreases in prevalence from childhood through adolescence and adulthood and is the most prevalent anxiety disorder among children younger than 12 years.
Separation anxiety among adults can occur when people are apart from other people close to them, can also develop when people are separated from animal companions. In a recent study by Dowsett, Delfabbro & Chur-Hanson(2020), Participants completed demographic information and questionnaires measuring separation anxiety from companion animals and humans, attachment towards companion animals and humans, and social support. They found significant positive relationships between separation anxiety from humans, people substitution and separation anxiety from animals. Common symptoms that you might be unduly anxious when away from your pets includes irrational fear about extraordinary circumstances that are unlikely to occur, such as the pet being kidnapped from a secure home, or improbably accidents causing injuries, avoiding social activities with family and friends that would require you to be away from your pet, or insisting that your pet come along even when it is inappropriate, difficulty maintaining attention or focus at work or on any activity when you are away from your pet, resulting in poor performances or disciplinary action being obsessed with the prospect of having to leave your pet, dreading the moment when you have to depart and using any excuse to delay leaving.
According to the Diagnostic Statistical manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5) the essential features by which you can diagnose a person with this Separation Anxiety Disorder(SAD) are excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from home or attachment figures, recurrent and excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation, worry about wellbeing and death about attachment figure and particularly when they are separated from them they need to know all the whereabouts of their attachment figures. They complain physical symptoms like headache, stomach-ache when separation occurs or anticipated. Children with SAD refuse to sleep alone and insist someone stay with them until they fall asleep. This fear and anxiety last at least for 4weeks among children and adolescents and 6months or more for adults.
So, how we can overcome this separation anxiety? There are various ways by which we can overcome this separation anxiety like systematic desensitization – learning to be alone in a way that is calming and better for mental health, in some cases medications may also be recommended, and relaxation strategies can be implemented as well. Recognizing the symptoms of a particular disorder can be extremely advantageous too. For children, parents can practice separation like children feels insecure when they are hungry and tired, so parents or care givers can schedule separation after nap or feeding. Besides, keeping familiar situations for children, developing the confidence that they can handle separation, reassuring them that they will be fine, practicing good bye ritual and keeping the promises can help your child in overcoming or not to develop separation anxiety.
Jill T. Ehrenreich, Lauren C. Santucci, Courtney L. Weiner(2008). Separation anxiety disorder in youth: Phenomenology, assessment and treatment: Psicol Conductual.16(3):389–412.doi: 10.1901/jaba.2008.16-389
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Anxiety Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Miriam A.Schiele, Borwin Bandelo, David S. Baldwinde, Stefano.Pini, Katharina Domschke(2020). A neurobiological framework of separation anxiety and related phenotypes: European Neuropsychopharmacology(33), 45-57