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Separation Anxiety - What, Why and How to Deal with it?

We have all felt the stress and gloominess of separating from someone, at least a few times in our lives; our first day of school after our parents dropped us off, the day our partner left for a two-month-long training camp abroad, or even while leaving our dog home as we leave for work. But think of a situation where we get stuck on that fear and stress associated with separation, even at times when it is unavoidable, and to an extent where it intrudes into our normal daily lives. 

Separation Anxiety is exactly that. It is the fear of actually separating or even fearing separation from someone or something, known as the attachment figure. This could be a person (parents, children, partner) or even inanimate things (your house). But just like any other anxiety disorder, it is a very real condition and affects your physical and mental health. 

Earlier, separation anxiety was generally attributed to infants, young children, and pets. But recent studies have shown that separation anxiety can affect anyone, including adults. This could be due to a previous traumatic event of separation or losing an important person or even a mental health condition. But rather than dismissing this as being overprotective or controlling, we should try and understand the underlying issue. 

How do you know if you have separation anxiety? 

● Fear and stress, during, before, and after separation from the attachment figure

● Fear of losing the person, or the fear that the person would be harmed if you’re separated 

● Clinging or resistance to leaving the attachment figure 

● Separation-related insomnia or nightmares 

● Actual physical symptoms of anxiety while being separated, like nausea, vomiting, headaches, etc. 

If you feel that you or your loved one is facing these issues, there are some strategies you can use to manage this anxiety and make it easier to deal with: 

1. Understanding and accepting the issue 

When a person has separation anxiety, it is easy to overlook it, especially as adults as it is often considered to be love or protectiveness, and more a positive emotion than a negative one. When you feel excessive fear or any symptoms mentioned before, or during separation from your loved one or any other attachment figure, it is important to recognize that this is affecting you as well as the other person detrimentally. 

2. Communication is key 

The next step is to communicate what you’re feeling and what your fears are, to the attachment figure. This can take away a lot of irrational fears and can build confidence that the separation is necessary and not permanent. Your attachment figure can also be aware of the issue and can provide reassurance. In the case of children, let them know that they are safe and that you would return in a while. If possible, make sure they are with another attachment figure who can provide comfort and care (For eg: a teacher). 

3. Try meditation or take up a hobby

Meditation can help in managing different types of anxieties, including separation anxiety. A daily meditation practice like mindfulness or guided meditation can help you deal with your mental health struggles better. Taking up a hobby or activity, especially during separation can take your mind away from the recurring thoughts. 

4. Therapy 

If you feel that your separation anxiety is affecting you as well as your loved ones, and is interfering with your daily life and functioning, consult a therapist. This can help you gain clarity, and can help you cope with the issues under the guidance of a trained professional.