Separation anxiety usually begins in childhood and relates to the fear of being away from a person one feel particularly attached to. For children this is usually parents, siblings, or a close relative and for adults it may be a spouse, a romantic partner, their child or a close friend. When separated, even for a few hours, one begins to feel anxious or on edge, worrying that something bad might have happened to the other person and that they will be alone forever.
When children have separation anxiety they often have trouble sleeping alone. They don’t like to be left with babysitters, and when away from a parent or attachment figure, they will often want to check in repeatedly. They may become panicked if a parent is even a few minutes late coming home or picking them up. The child often wants to know exactly where the parent is going to be at all times, sometimes even within their own home.
Children with separation anxiety often experience stomach aches, headaches, and sometimes even vomiting when anticipating or when separated from the person they are attached to.
Adults can have many of the same symptoms as children, not wanting to be alone at night, becoming distressed when their partner is away on a trip, checking in with the person repeatedly and panicking when the other person is late or does not respond to their calls or texts.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective treatment for separation anxiety. It focuses on helping people think more realistically and gain confidence being away from the person they are attached to.