Separation Anxiety in Adults: Symptoms, Treatments, & How to Cope

Vasantha Priya

11 April 2024

8 Mins

Separation anxiety in adults is more common than you might think. It's not just about missing someone when they're away; it's a deep-seated fear of being separated from loved ones or familiar environments. While it's normal to feel some degree of attachment to those we care about, separation anxiety becomes problematic when it interferes with our daily lives and relationships.

What others feel occasionally, you feel intensely and it doesn’t allow you to carry on with your day-to-day. If you’re in such a situation, there’s a good chance you have separation anxiety. It can develop towards your partner, a close friend, a child, or any loved one, and when it does, it takes a toll on your mental health, you’re always left longing, and unable to prioritize anything else.

Your struggle ends here. You’ll find answers to all your questions in this blog, and understand that you’re not alone, there’s help, and what you can do to feel better.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is that feeling of not wanting to be away from someone or somewhere you're attached to. Do you know how little kids sometimes get super upset when their parents leave? That's separation anxiety in action. But guess what? Adults can feel it too.

When you're away from your loved ones or your comfort zone, and suddenly, you start feeling really anxious, maybe even sick to your stomach or shaky. That's separation anxiety kicking in for adults.

You might find yourself being clingy or super worried when your partner or friends aren't around. It's like your brain is convinced that something terrible will happen if you're apart from them. This emotion overwhelms you and you may not be able to concentrate on anything else, unless and until you see or get in touch with the person you miss.

Separation anxiety in adults

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety In Adults

There’s a fine line between missing someone deeply and having separation anxiety. They’re not the same, although missing is what primarily happens in both scenarios. The following separation anxiety in adults symptoms will throw light on the fine line of distinction between the two.

1. You Worry Too Much, Too Often

Adults with separation anxiety often experience persistent and excessive worry about being separated from loved ones. This worry can be overwhelming and may interfere with daily activities. It’s debilitating to the extent that you’re unable to keep up personal commitments or do basic chores without being engulfed by it.

2. You’re Terrified of Being Alone

Adults with separation anxiety may have a fear of being alone or in unfamiliar places. You may feel a strong need to be in constant contact with loved ones to feel safe and secure. This isn’t because they loathe loneliness. It’s because your recurring distressing thoughts convince them that your loved one may be in danger, cheat on them, or undermine your love for them in some way.

3. You Start Showing Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of separation anxiety in adults can include trembling, sweating, nausea, or other symptoms of anxiety when anticipating or experiencing separation. This happens when you're constantly in flight or fight mode, severely anxious, and your sympathetic nervous system is distressed. This manifests itself in the form of physical symptoms.

4. You Have Trouble Sleeping

Adults with separation anxiety may have difficulty sleeping, especially when they are away from their loved ones. This can lead to fatigue and other health issues. You may also feel scared of the nightmares you may experience, or simply fear the overpowering silence surrounding you in the night, in the absence of your loved one. Your mind imagines all the worst things that could happen to your loved one, and you can’t get a wink of sleep.

5. You’re Not Able to Concentrate Like Before

Separation anxiety can make it difficult for adults to concentrate on tasks or work. When your mind is constantly occupied with [worry], you’ll certainly have a hard time concentrating on work, or even personal commitments. You may not be able to hold a conversation for long if you’re intensely anxious about being separated from your loved one.

6. You Forego Any Chance of Being Separated

Adults with separation anxiety may avoid situations that could lead to separation, such as social gatherings or travel. This avoidance can impact their social and professional lives. It’s in our nature as humans to avoid threats to our safety. As a person with separation anxiety, the only time you feel safe, and comfortable with the loved one whose presence you crave. You go to any extent to ensure your loved one doesn’t leave, and you aren’t stuck in an awful loop of misery.

7. You Seek Reassurance Constantly, and Can’t Manage Without It

Adults with separation anxiety may seek constant reassurance from loved ones to alleviate their anxiety. You may repeatedly ask for confirmation that you will not be abandoned or left alone. You want to constantly and undoubtedly know that they love you, and won’t abandon you for someone else.


8. Your Partner Feels Suffocated

Separation anxiety can significantly impact relationships, leading to conflicts and emotional strain. Individuals with separation anxiety may become overly dependent on their partners, leading to feelings of suffocation or resentment. Constantly needing validation, and reassurance from your partner, and putting up walls between your partner and the world can feel too much for them.

Causes & Triggers of Adult Separation Anxiety

Adult separation anxiety can be triggered by a variety of factors, often stemming from early life experiences, attachment styles, and current life circumstances. Understanding these causes and triggers can help individuals recognize and address their anxiety more effectively.

Early Life Experiences

Childhood experiences, particularly those involving separation from caregivers or traumatic events, can contribute to the development of adult separation anxiety. Individuals who experienced inconsistent caregiving or were separated from primary caregivers at a young age may develop insecure attachment styles, making them more prone to separation anxiety in adulthood.

early life experiences

Attachment Style

Attachment theory suggests that the way individuals bond with caregivers in infancy can influence their attachment style in adulthood. Adults with insecure attachment styles, such as anxious-preoccupied or fearful-avoidant attachment, may be more susceptible to separation anxiety. If this is you, you may have difficulty trusting others and may fear abandonment or rejection.

Loss of a Loved One

The loss of a loved one, whether through death, divorce, or separation, can trigger feelings of separation anxiety in adults. Grief and mourning can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and abandonment, leading to heightened anxiety about being separated from others. The flip side is, that when you lose a loved one, and you have a friend or a colleague helping you through your grief, you may tend to bond over the trauma and the support they gave you, causing you to latch onto a different person with intensified separation anxiety.

Major Life Changes

Significant life changes, such as moving to a new city, starting a new job, or ending a relationship, can trigger separation anxiety in adults. These changes can disrupt established routines and social support networks, leading to feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.

Major life changes

Stressful Events

Stressful events, such as financial difficulties, health problems, or work-related stress, can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and insecurity. These events can increase the likelihood of separation anxiety, as you may seek comfort and reassurance from loved ones during times of uncertainty.

Dependency Issues

Individuals who have overly dependent relationships or who rely heavily on others for emotional support may be more prone to separation anxiety. You may struggle to cope with being alone or fear losing the support and validation of your loved ones.

Traumatic Experiences

Traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or accidents, can contribute to the development of separation anxiety in adulthood. These experiences can disrupt a person's sense of safety and security, leading to heightened anxiety about being separated from others.

Traumatic experiences

Personality Traits

Certain personality traits, such as high levels of neuroticism or sensitivity to rejection, may increase the risk of developing separation anxiety. Individuals with these traits may be more prone to feeling anxious or insecure in relationships, leading to separation anxiety.

Relationship Issues

Difficulties in relationships, such as conflicts with a partner or family member, can trigger separation anxiety. These issues can create feelings of insecurity and fear of abandonment, leading to heightened anxiety about being separated from loved ones.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as a lack of social support or a history of trauma in the community, can contribute to the development of separation anxiety. These factors can create a sense of instability and insecurity, leading to heightened anxiety about being separated from others.

How Attachment Affects Separation Anxiety

These early attachments shape our internal working models of relationships, influencing how we perceive and respond to separations from loved ones. Here's a detailed look at how your attachment style can affect the development and expression of your separation anxiety:

Secure Attachment

Infants who develop a secure attachment style with their caregivers tend to have caregivers who are consistently responsive and sensitive to their needs. This secure base allows infants to explore their environment confidently, knowing that their caregiver will be there to provide comfort and support when needed. You tend to have a more positive view of themselves and others, leading to lower levels of separation anxiety in adulthood.

secure attachment

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment

People with the anxious-preoccupied attachment style often experience high levels of separation anxiety from boyfriend, or other partners. This attachment style develops when caregivers are inconsistently available, leading to feelings of uncertainty and insecurity in the relationship. You may cling to relationships and seek constant reassurance from others to alleviate their anxiety about being abandoned or left alone.

anxious pre-occupied attchment

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

In contrast, people with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to suppress their attachment needs and may downplay the importance of close relationships. This attachment style often develops when caregivers are emotionally unavailable or dismissive of their child's needs. You may avoid close relationships and may not experience as much separation anxiety due to your tendency to downplay the importance of attachment.

Dismissive-Avoidant attachement

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

If you’re a fearful-avoidant, also known as disorganized attachment, may experience conflicting feelings about close relationships. This attachment style often develops in response to caregivers who are both frightened, leading to feelings of confusion and fear in the relationship. So, you may exhibit high levels of detachment anxiety, as you may desire closeness but fear being hurt or rejected in relationships.

fearful-avoidant attachment

How Can Now&Me Help?

If you’re fighting battles in your head every day and don’t know how to cope with the heaviness you feel when your partner isn’t with you, and you want to escape this misery, you should talk to a qualified, empathetic and seasoned therapist, like the ones we have at Now&Me.

With a therapist by your side, you can process your emotions, share what’s weighing you down, and start improving your mental health. These incredibly helpful sessions needn’t be expensive. Our prices start at INR 30/- per session, with the best line of therapists in the country. We vet our therapists thoroughly, and present to you only the best of the best, for you to choose from when you download the Now&Me app to book a session.

Here’s the best part – you also get to talk and share what’s on your heart anonymously with strangers, and take heart in those who have had similar experiences. That’s what our community is all about.

The right time to seek help is now. Download the Now&Me app today!

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