Sophie Elatri Psychologist

Sophie Elatri PsychologistWhat is adult separation anxiety?

This condition makes the first day of school harder for parents than for children, although both can experience this type of anxiety.

Daycare and school are exciting passages for most parents. As children grow up and become independent, parents share the responsibilities of caretaking. For many parents, these instances are the first real separation from their children. While it is normal to feel some sadness and anxiety, a more serious condition, called Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder (ASAD) can make this transition more difficult. Traditionally thought to be more present in children, separation anxiety disorder is now being recognised in adults, with new studies confirming that adult separation anxiety is much more common than once believed.

Symptoms of adult separation anxiety

Centring on detachment from a person or place, adult separation anxiety presents as the following symptoms:

  • Unrealistic worries of harm when not in the presence of a specific person or place
  • Nightmares about separation
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Physical symptoms surrounding the time of separation
  • Obsessive distress when facing separation

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder, with the vast majority of cases being diagnosed in adulthood. Traditional Separation Anxiety Disorder occurs in early childhood, with 1/3 of all adults having experienced it at some time. However, adults diagnosed with the same condition are an entirely new group, meaning that Separation Anxiety Disorders are largely prevalent.

It manifests alongside other psychological conditions, including panic disorder, agoraphobia, substance abuse, depression, and social anxiety disorder. Marital and occupational problems are also linked to the disorder.


This issue was recognised as a valid disorder in the 1990s, but there has yet to be a definitive treatment. However, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medication have been used in the past.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for adult separation anxiety

Exposure therapy, a form of CBT, is especially helpful as a treatment method. It involves confronting the phobia of separation in a safe environment. Known for its usefulness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), exposure therapy can help reprogram the stress response to separation. Because adult separation anxiety often occurs with other mental disorders, CBT is highly recommended.


In certain studies, antidepressants are found to be effective in reducing the obsessive thoughts associated with this condition. Enough research has not yet been done to conclude the effect of these medications on adult separation anxiety long-term. Therapy is recommended in conjunction with or in place of medication in all cases.


If you or someone you love experiences obsessive thoughts or extreme discomfort regarding separation as your child is growing older, please seek help. While this condition is fairly new in the world of psychology, anxiety disorders have been prevalent in society for decades. Help is available, and you deserve to experience each milestone of your child’s life without fear.



Anxiety, Panic, and Health

Anxiety Coach: Exposure Therapy