Do people in your life often call you needy? Do you feel some unexplained fear when you’re alone or when someone you love is leaving, even for a few hours? If the answer is yes, you might be struggling with separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is the extreme fear of being separated from loved ones or people who we perceive to be a source of safety and connection. When you hear the words “separation anxiety” you may think of a child crying when their parents leave them on the first day of school, but adults can struggle with it too. According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, an estimated 43% of people who experience separation anxiety develop the condition after 18 years of age.
But unfortunately, this disorder is often misunderstood and stigmatized, while sufferers are labeled as “needy”.
Here are 5 signs you’re not needy, but suffering from separation anxiety.
1. Fear of being alone
Is being alone your worst fear? Do you keep imagining scenarios in your head where your partner breaks up with you or your friends stop hanging out with you? People with separation anxiety fear being alone the most. They might be afraid of loneliness even if they have a big group of friends, a loving family, and a healthy relationship. Their loved ones might assure them they’re never alone, but the fear of abandonment is often stronger.
It’s important to note that this fear is different from the usual loneliness that everyone feels sometimes. David Klemanski, a psychologist at Yale Medicine says that when this uneasiness feels out of control or causes a lot of distress, it’s a sign that it requires attention. This could mean that because of the fear of loneliness, you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or panic attacks, unable to sleep, or unable to concentrate or do your daily activities.
Later on, we’ll explain where this fear comes from, so make sure to stick until the end if you’re interested.
2. Depressive symptoms
According to a study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, adults with separation anxiety were measured to show higher levels of depression, higher stress, higher neuroticism scores, and greater impairments in daily life. Do you feel like you’re showing some symptoms of depression? You can watch this video if you’re not sure.
Of course, having depressive symptoms doesn’t have to automatically mean you’re suffering from separation anxiety, so you should think about when those symptoms appear. Are you unusually depressed when you’re home alone? When someone close to you is going away for a few days? When you’re going on a business trip or a vacation? If your symptoms worsen when you’re separated or away from some people, it could mean you’re having some trouble handling loneliness.
3. Worry that a loved one will be hurt
Worrying about the ones we love is natural. People may worry about their children when they’re out partying or about their friends when they’re driving home. But if you suffer from separation anxiety, this fear may constantly be in your head. No matter how much you want to stop the thoughts from racing, you may worry that something terrible would happen to your loved ones. That’s one of the reasons why you’re so reluctant to leave their side. This fear, if left untreated, could damage your everyday functioning and quality of life overall. It might be a good idea to seek support from the ones you’re scared for. They might be able to ensure that you don’t have to worry so much – they will be okay, and you will be okay.
4. Nightmares with themes of separation
All of the things we mentioned so far can impact your sleep too if you’re battling separation anxiety. Sometimes those fears of rejection or abandonment can’t leave your head even for a little bit, so you might start having nightmares. You might dream that your loved ones suddenly left, that your partner broke up with you, or that you’re lost and alone. Have you ever had a similar dream? What was it about?
This symptom can be difficult to handle not only because it lowers your sleep quality, but it can also lead to insomnia. You might be too afraid to even fall asleep so you wouldn’t have to have those dreams.
5. Physical symptoms
How do you feel physically when you need to be away from people you love? Do you feel some physical pain, like headaches or stomach aches? These types of symptoms are common for ones with separation anxiety. As a result of overwhelming stress, you may experience physical pain and even nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and light-headedness. These symptoms could occur as a result of separating from others, and if they happen, they could make it hard for you to function normally.
But, why does this even happen?
Several risk factors can contribute to separation anxiety.
- Life stresses or loss that result in separation: the illness or death of a loved one, loss of a pet, divorce of parents, moving, changing schools, or going away to study.
- A temperament that is prone to anxiety disorders.
- Environmental issues, such as experiencing some type of disaster that involves separation, like a war or an earthquake.
Also, extreme fear of abandonment, even if it’s irrational, could stem from an insecure attachment style. We’ve talked about attachment styles a lot on our channel, and you can learn more about them by watching this older video of ours.
Separation anxiety could make it difficult for you to maintain healthy relationships, and even set the stage for romantic separation anxiety. That’s why it is important to visit a mental health professional as soon as you notice you might be suffering from this condition. Your doctor may recommend different treatment options, like cognitive behavioral therapy or support groups. Your treatment will probably consist of two aspects; working towards independence from your loved ones, and learning to manage the stress of separation by identifying and processing the root of your fear. That way, you will be able to conquer it for good. The most important thing to remember is this: you don’t have to go through this forever. Help is possible and recovery is possible!
Gupta, S. (2021, November 12). Coping With Separation Anxiety in Relationships. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-separation-anxiety-in-relationships-5207904
Meadows-Fernandez, R. A. (2018, September 18). What Is Separation Anxiety Disorder in Adults? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/separation-anxiety-in-adults
Nall, R. M. (2022, March 24). What is separation anxiety disorder in adults? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322070#causes-in-adults
Program, T. L. (2022, January 18). What is Separation Anxiety in Adults? The Light Program. https://thelightprogram.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/what-is-separation-anxiety-in-adults/
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Silove, D. M., Marnane, C. L., Wagner, R., Manicavasagar, V. L., & Rees, S. (2010). The prevalence and correlates of adult separation anxiety disorder in an anxiety clinic. BMC Psychiatry, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244x-10-21