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Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder

Imagine that you are at home in the evening, trying to relax in front of your TV watching your favourite show, when a news flash comes on and reports the number of rising COVID cases. Someone who has survived the virus is being interviewed about what if felt like and the impact on their life. Suddenly your thoughts shift to thinking about your parents, your partner, or your children and what would happen if they became seriously ill. You start thinking about what it would be like for you if they had to be admitted to hospital or worse, worrying about whether they are well and how to monitor their health while you are away from them. An overwhelming urge arises to call or text them on the phone to make sure they are all right. When you try to contact them, the phone rings out, or they do not immediately answer your text message and you are left wondering and worrying about their safety. Soon your breathing changes, you break out in a sweat and you can feel your hands trembling as you try to call them again and again. Unfortunately, this overwhelming anxiety about your loved ones has occurred repeatedly throughout the day and you are exhausted with worry. How will you ever get to sleep and face the next day?

 

This is just one example of how separation anxiety may manifest in our everyday lives. When these anxiety symptoms are severe and lead to difficulties in day-to-day living, such as being unable to concentrate on work or other necessary tasks, difficulties in leaving the home especially if a loved one is inside, and repeatedly checking-up on the whereabouts of people you are close to, then this type of anxiety may be classified as a disorder – separation anxiety disorder which is the most recent addition to the list of adult anxiety disorders listed in the major classification systems (DSM-5 and ICD-11) for mental health disorders. Symptoms of adult separation anxiety disorder can include panic attacks, overwhelming worry, repetitive reassurance-seeking, and checking behaviours.

 

Although nearly everyone would have experienced some form of mild separation anxiety throughout their lives some people are more vulnerable to developing a more severe form, especially during times of extreme stress. Separation anxiety can also run in families so that parents who have high levels of separation anxiety are more likely to have children with similar symptoms. If the condition persists, people can often become depressed, lose confidence in themselves or resort to alcohol to dull their distress. Psychological treatment is effective in learning to control the symptoms and deal with the distressing worries. In some cases, medication can also be useful as an adjunct to psychological interventions. With time it is possible to learn helpful strategies to overcome this type of anxiety and to regain control over your life rather than having your separation anxiety control you! Contact our clinic if you would like to find out more about adult separation anxiety disorder.