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Understanding Separation Anxiety in Adulthood

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety


It is not unusual for people to experience anxiety about being temporarily or permanently separated from those they are close to. Many of us would have experienced this type of anxiety about being separated from our parents when we were children.


Some children can become so anxious about being separated from their carers that they try very hard to avoid being separated, for instance, refusing to go to school or becoming stressed or tearful on school days. They might even complain of tummy aches, headaches, nausea, or other symptoms just prior to leaving home.


Going to school, leaving home and being away from parents can be a particularly difficult for children with high levels of separation anxiety. Children with high levels of separation anxiety often complain about physical symptoms or other ‘excuses’ in order to avoid going to school. Parents whose toddlers suffer from separation anxiety may find it very difficult to calm their child or resolve a tantrum when they need to leave their child even for short periods of time. This type of anxiety in children can often lead to major disruptions to the family routine.


These are just some of the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. Severe symptoms can also manifest as panic attacks, difficulty breathing, racing heartbeat and dizziness. Panic attacks associated with separation anxiety can occur when children worry about being separated from their carers.


Recent research has indicated that adults can also suffer from this type of anxiety, usually in connection with their partners, their own children, other family members and pets. They may worry unnecessarily about the health and wellbeing of those they are close to, or about these people leaving them and suffer from serious debilitating anxiety symptoms including panic attacks.



Emma, mother of 10-year-old Jasmine, suffers from Separation Anxiety Disorder. Emma is struggling with the of idea of Jasmine going on school camp. Even though the school has reassured her that they will look after the children in their care, Emma’s mind repeatedly returns to thoughts such as, “Will Jasmine get hurt? Will they meet with an accident in the bus they’re travelling in?”. As the date for the school camp nears, these thoughts have become more regular and difficult for Emma to ignore. Emma thinks of many reasons to provide to Jasmine’s school as to why her daughter can no longer attend camp. But Jasmine really wants to attend school camp and is looking forward to the trip with her school friends. In instances like these, when a parent has separation anxiety, the child’s life might become disrupted and stressful.

When adults suffer from separation anxiety disorder, their worries may become so severe that they interfere with many aspects of life including their close relationships and their ability to work to their full capacity. They may experience panic attacks when they are physically separated from people closest to them or when they think about being separated. While it is normal in some situations, to experience high levels of anxiety or worry about loved ones, such as when they are ill or away for a prolonged period of time, some people experience high levels of separation anxiety even when there is no obvious reason to be concerned.


When symptoms of separation anxiety are severe, are prolonged or begin to impact on your lifestyle and the people close to you, it is time to consider seeking help from a qualified health professional in order to undertake treatment for this condition. Separation anxiety can be treated by a combination of medication and psychological techniques, however, in most cases psychological therapy alone may be enough.


Separation Anxiety Disorder Symptom Checklist:

  • Intense worry about currently being separated or the possibility of being separated in the future from someone close to you.

  • Intense worry that someone close to you might be seriously harmed, or that something bad will happen to them when you are not with them

  • Feeling stressed and anxious when you are away from the person that you are close to 

  • Wanting to know the whereabouts of the person that you’re close to at all times Experiencing ‘physical symptoms’ of anxiety when realising that the person you are close to is going to leave.

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety/panic can include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and sweating

If you are interested in finding out more about Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder, please head to: or contact the clinic and we will be more than happy to discuss this with you.

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