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What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by an intense or prolonged fear of being away from someone. While the condition is often associated with children, it can occur in people of all ages. 

Children with separation anxiety disorder typically fear being away from their parents or primary caregivers. While some resistance to separation is normal at a young age, intense anxiety that is outside the norm for the child’s developmental age may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder. 

When adults live with separation anxiety disorder, they may fear being away from their spouses, children, or other loved ones. Such adults may have separation anxiety in regard to some family members, but not others. 

By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for separation anxiety, you take the first step toward a more peaceful future.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

The fear of being separated from a loved one can show up in many different ways. For both children and adults, symptoms can include:

  • Excessive emotional stress when away from home or a loved one
  • Intense anxiety at the thought of being separated from a loved one 
  • Excessive or constant worry about losing a loved one due to an accident or sudden illness
  • Excessive or constant worry about separation due do a disaster, kidnapping, or other extreme cause of separation
  • Refusing to leave home due to fear of separation
  • Reluctance or refusal to sleep anywhere other than at home
  • Recurrent nightmares about separation
  • Physical symptoms of stress when away from a loved one or anticipating separation

In young children, separation anxiety may also appear as extreme tantrums when facing separation. 

What Causes Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety disorder may be caused by traumatic events, genetics, or other unforeseen causes. While anyone can develop separation anxiety disorder, people with these risk factors are more likely to develop the condition:

  • Stressors involving separation from a loved one, such as a recent death in the family, divorce, or move
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Experience with a natural disaster that caused loss or separation
  • Certain personalities and temperaments 


Often times, people with separation anxiety disorder also live with another mental health condition, which clinicians call “comorbid disorders.” Most commonly, people with separation anxiety disorder live with other anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression.

Treatment Options for Separation Anxiety

If someone is diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, several treatment options become available. Therapy is typically the first-line treatment for people with separation anxiety disorder. Depending on the patient’s needs and provider’s expertise, types of therapy may include play therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or others. 

Some cases of separation anxiety disorder may be so severe that the patient needs anti-anxiety medication. Typically, medication is used alongside therapy, not as a replacement. Patients may take the medication just for a short while or more long-term. 

Telehealth for Separation Anxiety Treatment

Online therapy and telemedicine may be options for people with separation anxiety disorder. These safe, effective treatment options allow patients to attend appointments through secure, online video chats.