Understanding Separation Anxiety: Adults vs. Children

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Is Separation Anxiety Just a Children’s Issue?

Separation anxiety is a normal stage of development for toddlers and infants. Basically, separation anxiety is a sign of a child’s attachment to a parent or caregiver. All young kids go through a period of separation anxiety, but this problem usually goes away when they are about three years old. However, some children may also experience separation anxiety disorder, which is a more serious problem that may develop at the preschool age.

Given that separation anxiety affects all children at a certain age, many people think of this type of anxiety as just a children’s issue, but the truth is that it may affect people of all ages. Because of strong associations with childhood, many adults with separation anxiety disorder don’t receive proper treatment or downplay the importance of this problem.

Understanding this disorder can help shift such an unhelpful mindset. In this article, we will consider separation anxiety disorder in more detail and think of what triggers separation anxiety in adults. Learning more about this disorder may help you figure out whether or not you need therapy for anxiety.

Unhappy asian pretty young woman siting alone on couch with feeling sadness

Separation Anxiety: Adults vs. Children

Separation anxiety can be a temporary issue, but it may also persist and continue into adulthood. In this case, a person can be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. Both children and adults share similar symptoms. For example, children may experience anxiety and fear when they are away from their parents, while parents may have the same symptoms when their children are not around.

Besides, many adults experience symptoms of separation anxiety disorder when they’re away from their partners. Separation anxiety can be a reason why children don’t want to socialize or go to school, while adults may become less productive at work or abandon some of their responsibilities.


When we love someone, we might be concerned about their well-being. There’s nothing wrong with worrying about our loved ones, but sometimes, such worries may get out of control and turn into anxiety. When untreated, anxiety may get stronger and stronger, leading to panic attacks, extreme sadness, social withdrawal, problems with concentration, and other symptoms.

Control Issues and Toxic Behavior

People who experience social anxiety related to their child or partner may become overly controlling and demonstrate toxic behavior. For instance, parents with such a disorder might be very strict, while partners in romantic relationships might try to dominate their loved ones and ignore their personal boundaries.


Quite often, people with separation anxiety become very jealous and possessive. The main reason why this disorder may make you feel jealous is that it also induces the fear of abandonment. While people with this disorder can demonstrate toxic behavior, they may also get stuck in relationships with toxic partners, trying to save their relationship at any cost, no matter how unhealthy it is.


Separation anxiety may also make you feel afraid for your loved one’s safety so you may become overly protective. Besides, you may refuse to spend time away from them, have difficulties falling asleep when they are away, or have nightmares about something bad happening to them. Anxiety can also lead to many physical symptoms, including headaches, pains, and stomach problems.

As you can see, separation anxiety disorder can have a strong negative impact not only on your relationships but also on your overall emotional and physical well-being. People get this diagnosis when they have at least three symptoms that have a significant impact on their daily activities for 4 weeks or longer.

If you’ve been diagnosed with this kind of disorder, don’t hesitate to get professional help. You can also learn effective grounding techniques for anxiety to make your everyday life a little easier and ease the symptoms.

Risk Factors

Quite often, separation anxiety is a result of a loss of a loved one. However, it may also develop after some significant life events, like moving to another city or getting into college. Those who were diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder as children are more likely to face this problem as adults. Besides, this disorder is more likely to affect people who were raised by overly controlling parents.

There are also some other mental health disorders that can make a person more likely to develop separation anxiety. For example, people diagnosed with this disorder are also often diagnosed with social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic, and personality disorders.

According to research data published in BMC Psychiatry, people diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder are also more depressed and demonstrate higher levels of neuroticism than those diagnosed with other types of anxiety disorders.

How to Deal With Separation Anxiety

Acknowledge Your Anxiety

If your anxiety starts to affect your behavior, the first thing you should do is recognize its impact. You need to acknowledge the fact that your judgment and decisions can be rooted in anxiety, and therefore, you may have to reconsider them. For example, if you think that your partner has forgotten you, they may simply be too busy and unable to allocate enough time for just the two of you.

Distract Yourself From Negative Thoughts

The more you ruminate on your fears, the stronger your anxiety may get. Therefore, a good solution is to distract yourself from these thoughts by focusing on work or finding a hobby. By avoiding thoughts that worry you, you can minimize anxiety and avoid behavior that can lead to the worsening of symptoms.

Try Journaling

It’s also possible to manage anxiety with journaling. This way, you can reflect on your emotions and events that trigger negative thoughts so that you can avoid such circumstances. Besides, journaling can help you evaluate your behavior and think of what kind of reaction would be better in each particular situation. Journaling can also simply help you express your emotions without causing any damage to your relationship.

Reframe Your Negative Thoughts

Your negative thoughts fuel anxiety so a good approach is to focus on the positive aspects of things instead. For example, if your loved one cannot join you today because they’re busy, don’t focus on your feeling of loneliness and how you miss them. Instead, focus on your warm feelings toward them and think of how good it will feel when you’re together again.

Talk to a Therapist

A licensed therapist can help you figure out what triggers separation anxiety and suggest effective coping practices. Although anxiety disorders are very common, they can be really difficult to overcome, so you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help. While traditional therapy requires you to commute to a therapist’s office, online therapy platforms like Calmerry allow you to get the necessary help from anywhere you are so you can enjoy therapy regardless of how tight your schedule is.

Final Thoughts

While separation anxiety is an inevitable part of children’s development, sometimes, it may turn into a disorder. Moreover, separation anxiety can affect not only children but also adults. Adults may experience a range of symptoms that may have a significant negative impact on their relationships, physical and emotional health, and overall quality of life. 

Although overcoming anxiety can be quite a challenging task, it’s still possible. To change your emotional reactions to certain events and overcome behavioral issues, a person should address the negative thoughts that cause these emotions and behavior. This is one of the main ideas behind cognitive-behavioral therapy, which aims to determine unhelpful thoughts that fuel anxiety and challenge them.

If you want to overcome separation anxiety, you can talk to a therapist and get professional help. If your schedule is too tight for traditional in-person sessions, you can choose online therapy and talk to a therapist from the comfort of your home. Learn more about the advantages of talk therapy to see how you can benefit from online therapy now.

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