Ever become emotionally invested in something? Have you ever thought that without this thing, your life wouldn't be possible? Separation anxiety is highly prevalent; statistics indicate that at least 33% of people have experienced this problem. The primary symptom of this disease is the fear of separation from someone or something. The person suffering from the disease will typically see separation as harmful to their well-being.
According to the American Psychological Association, Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is “an excessive display of fear and distress when faced with situations of separation from the home and/or from a specific attachment figure.”
Knowing more about Separation Anxiety Disorder
According to Veronica Raggi, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Washington, D.C., and the author of Exposure Therapy for Treating Anxiety in Children and Adolescents, as cited by Laurence and Courtney (2022), SAD is a mental health disorder that develops in early childhood and is defined by persistent and developmentally inappropriate worry during separation. She notes that for children under the age of three, it's normal for them to want to stay with their parents—especially around the time that this type of anxiety peaks, which is around the 18-month mark. But if the child continues to show signs of unhappiness beyond this time, it may be an indication they have SAD.
According to Dr. Raggi, children who are physiologically inclined to anxiety are at a higher risk of experiencing separation anxiety. In other words, they are more prone to experience SAD if their biological parents suffer from an anxiety disorder. Scientific research has established that anxiety does indeed have a hereditary component.
Separation Anxiety Disorder is Not a Normal Stage of Development
SAD is a major mental issue marked by severe anguish when a kid is separated from the primary caregiver and is not a normal stage of development (Help Guide, 2022). To determine whether your child simply needs patience and understanding—or has a more serious issue—can be challenging because normal separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder share many of the same symptoms.
The degree of a child’s anxieties and whether they prevent them from engaging in typical activities are the primary distinctions between separation anxiety disorder and regular separation anxiety.
When a child has separation anxiety disorder, they may become upset at the mere prospect of being away from their parents and may even claim to be unwell to avoid going to school or playing with their friends. These worries can combine to become a condition if the symptoms are severe enough. However anxious a child may become while apart from parents, separation anxiety disorder can be managed. There are numerous things you may do to help children feel safer and less separation-related anxiety.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder
When symptoms are severe for the developmental stage and significantly impair everyday functioning, separation anxiety disorder is identified. According to Mayo Clinic (2022), some signs could be:
Severe and ongoing anxiety before leaving or being away from home or loved ones
Intense, ongoing fear of losing a parent or another loved one to illness or calamity
Constant fear of awful things happening, such as becoming lost or kidnapped and having to leave behind parents or other loved ones
Not wishing to be at home without a parent or other family member
Refusing to leave your home out of a fear of being alone
Refusal or reluctance to spend the night away from home without a parent or other close family member present
Nightmares about being apart
Frequent complains of migraines, tummy aches, or other problems when a parent or other close family member is about to be separated
Panic disorder and panic attacks, which are frequent occurrences of acute, sudden sensations of fear or terror that peak in a matter of minutes, may be linked to separation anxiety disorder.
Triggers of Separation Anxiety
A child who experiences separation anxiety disorder feels unsafe in some way. Examine anything that might have frightened your child, upset their routine, or otherwise upset their sense of balance in the world (Stanford Medicine, 2022). You'll be one step closer to assisting your youngster in overcoming their difficulties if you can identify the underlying cause (or causes).
Children’s separation anxiety disorder is frequently triggered by:
Change in Environment. Separation anxiety disorder can be brought on by changes in one’s environment, such as moving into a new home, starting a new job, or enrolling in daycare.
Stress. Separation anxiety issues can be brought on by stressful circumstances like moving, divorce, or losing a loved one, including a pet.
Insecure Attachment. The emotional relationship that develops between a baby and its primary caregiver is known as the attachment bond. An insecure attachment link can contribute to developmental issues like separation anxiety, whereas a healthy attachment bond guarantees that your child will feel secure, understood, and tranquil enough for maximum growth.
Overly Protective Parent. Separation anxiety disorder may occasionally be a symptom of your own stress or anxiety. Anxieties can be fed between parents and kids.
Handling Separation Anxiety
You can better aid your child in overcoming separation anxiety disorder by making them feel safer rather than trying to avoid separation whenever feasible. Your youngster may feel more at ease at home if you create a supportive environment. Even if your efforts fall short of resolving the issue entirely, your empathy will at least help.
Educate yourself about separation anxiety disorder. You will be able to empathize with your child’s challenges more readily if you are aware of how they are affected by this disorder.
Listen to and respect your child’s feelings. Being listened to can be a profoundly healing experience for a youngster who may already feel alone due to their disease.
Expect separation difficulty. Be prepared for transitional situations that can worry your kid, including starting school or meeting up with friends to play. If one parent is easier for your child to part from than the other, let them handle the drop-off.
Validate child’s efforts. Use even the tiniest successes—going to bed without a fuss, getting a good grade in school—as an excuse to praise your child.
Support child’s participation in various activities. Get your kid involved in constructive social and physical activities. They’re fantastic tools for reducing anxiety and fostering friendships in your kids.
Separation Anxiety on the Latest DSM
Separation anxiety disorder has just been included in the DSM-5 category of anxiety disorders, recognizing that it affects people of all ages and not just those in childhood and adolescence. In fact, this disorder was commonly thought to start in childhood in the DSM-IV-TR.
Clinical statistics conducted by Carmassi, Gesi, Massimetti, Shear, and Dell’Osso (2015) demonstrate substantial comorbidity rates with the majority of mental diseases, with prevalence rates ranging from 20 to 40%. Epidemiological data show that despite the majority of adult cases first appearing in adulthood, one-third of childhood illnesses continue into adulthood.
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Carmassi, C., Gesi, C., Massimetti, E., Shear, M., and Dell’Osso, L. (2015). Separation anxiety disorder in the DSM-5 era. Journal of Psychopathology, 21. 365-371.
Help Guide. (2022). Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-and-separation-anxiety-disorder.htm
Laurence, E., and Courtney, D. (2022). Separation Anxiety: Everything You Need To Know. Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/what-is-separation-anxiety/
Mayo Clinic. (2022). Separation anxiety disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/separation-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20377455#:~:text=Recurrent%20and%20excessive%20distress%20about,parents%20or%20other%20loved%20ones
Stanford Medicine. (2022). Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=separation-anxiety-disorder-90-P02582