A. Developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by three (or more) of the following:
B. The duration of the disturbance is at least 4 weeks.
C. The onset is before age 18 years.
D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic (occupational), or other important areas of functioning.
Someone suffering from separation anxiety disorder will be someone who appears to worry about one of two specific things – being away from home, or being away from a specific loved one or caretaker. Their worry is specific to one of these two things; usually a fear that focuses around being away from them, or losing them.
The key feature of this disorder is worrying to the point of being less productive in life – being so much of a “worry wart” that you get less things done, your relationships are less healthy, or you do worse in school or work. This can be in many forms but often shows itself in over-reactions to being away from the loved one or the caretaker, or even the thought of being away from home or the loved one.
Separation anxiety can manifest itself in many physical forms as well, some of the most common physical signs are frequent headaches, stomach aches, constipation or diarrhea, muscle pains, and excessive sweating especially around the time just before or just after separation.
Anxiety disorders are caused by our minds desire to prepare for the future. Being smart and emotional creatures, we have developed a benefit to understanding what “might” happen in the future so that we can be prepared for it. Simply put, separation anxiety disorder is caused by spending too much time thinking about, trying to control, or trying to change what “might” happen when we are away from home or what “might” happen to a loved one that we feel we can not live without.
Separation anxiety disorder can also be a conditioned response – if at one point in our lives we had a negative event that occurred over leaving a loved one, leaving home, or a loved one leaving us - our minds can learn to worry about it happening again. Like Pavlovian dogs, we can train ourselves to be anxious around certain people, places or events.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is the only true form of “cure” for separation anxiety disorder.
Some medications can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, but they are not a cure – talk to your primary care physician for more information. However, we recommend using medications in the treatment of general anxiety disorder only in combination with talk therapy.