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What To Do About Separation Anxiety

Key Points: Helping A Friend With Separation Anxiety

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Some important points to remember about how to help a friend with separation anxiety disorder include:

  • Although children are more likely to experience separation anxiety, adults can also deal with separation anxiety disorder
  • To help a friend with separation anxiety:
  • Learn about the condition
  • Support your friend whenever possible
  • Be patient with them, especially when their symptoms arise
  • Promote the benefits of treatment
  • Celebrate their small victories, like beginning therapy
  • A separation anxiety plan is a short-term tool that can help people better manage their symptoms of separation anxiety

Some people with separation anxiety turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their stress. If your friend with separation anxiety disorder engages in substance use, contact The Recovery Village. An admissions representative can talk to you about ways to help your friend or loved one find treatment.

Preparing Your Child For Preschool

For children who are prone to separation anxiety, feelings of distress when a parent isn’t near tend to surface around 8 months old and can wax and wane through age 4 or 5. However, some children who are perfectly content in your absence as babies might develop separation anxiety in the face of a big life changelike a new sibling, a move, or yes, the start of preschool.

If your child tends to cling to you in social settings or has been showing some anxiety about starting preschool, consider taking special steps to prepare them for the big first day. While you may think avoiding the topic of school will reduce jitters, kids who know what to expect in certain situations and practice routines to get through them are more likely to feel a sense of stability.

When To Seek Professional Help

Your own patience and know-how can go a long way toward helping your child with separation anxiety disorder. But some kids with separation anxiety disorder may need professional intervention. To decide if you need to seek help for your child, look for red flags, or extreme symptoms that go beyond milder warning signs. These include:

  • Age-inappropriate clinginess or tantrums.

Get more help

Practical coping suggestions for parents.

School Refusal Describes the symptoms and what parents can do about the problem.

Hotlines and support

In the U.S., call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 or the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 .

In the UK, call the Family Lives Helpline at 0808 800 2222 or Anxiety UK at 03444 775 774.

In Australia, call the Parentline at 1300 30 1300 or the SANE Help Centre at 1800 18 7263.

In Canada, call the Parent Helpline at 1-888-603-9100 or visit Anxiety Canada for links to services in different provinces.

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How To Handle Separation Anxiety In Babies

It’s normal for your little one to cry when you leavebut it’s still undeniably painful. Learn to cope with these tips for separation anxiety in babies.

Leaving your baby is never easy, and its especially brutal if he screams and clings whenever you head out. But is a normal part of development. “It’s an indication that a child is attached to his parents,” says Ross A. Thompson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. Ultimately, this strong sense of security will help your baby learn to be an independent toddler. In the meantime, though, you can follow these tips for handling separation anxiety with ease.

Common Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety

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The following is a list of symptoms that may indicate separation anxiety:

Urinating and DefecatingSome dogs urinate or defecate when left alone or separated from their guardians. If a dog urinates or defecates in the presence of his guardian, his house soiling probably isnt caused by separation anxiety.

Barking and HowlingA dog who has separation anxiety might bark or howl when left alone or when separated from his guardian. This kind of barking or howling is persistent and doesnt seem to be triggered by anything except being left alone.

Chewing, Digging and DestructionSome dogs with separation anxiety chew on objects, door frames or window sills, dig at doors and doorways, or destroy household objects when left alone or separated from their guardians. These behaviors can result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws and damaged nails. If a dogs chewing, digging and destruction are caused by separation anxiety, they dont usually occur in his guardians presence.

EscapingA dog with separation anxiety might try to escape from an area where hes confined when hes left alone or separated from his guardian. The dog might attempt to dig and chew through doors or windows, which could result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped front paws and damaged nails. If the dogs escape behavior is caused by separation anxiety, it doesnt occur when his guardian is present.

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels Ma

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Masters Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.

What Causes Separation Anxiety In Adults

An adults separation anxiety can stem from a parent, partner, or a child who moves away. Their anxiety may also be related to another underlying mental health condition. These may include delusions from psychotic disorders or fear of change relating to an autism spectrum disorder.

On occasion people may categorize an adult with separation anxiety disorder as being controlling or overprotective. However, their actions are often an adults way of expressing their fears in regard to separation.

Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD are more likely to experience separation anxiety as an adult, according to an article in the journal Personality and Mental Health .

Those with separation anxiety often have other co-existing conditions, such as social phobias, panic disorders, or agoraphobia .

Other risk factors for separation anxiety, in addition to pre-existing mental health conditions, include:

  • being female
  • childhood adversity, such as the death of a family member
  • history of childhood traumatic events, such as abuse

Sometimes a significant life change, such as a divorce or a child leaving home and going to college, can cause a person to develop adult separation anxiety.

According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, an estimated 43.1 percent of people who experience separation disorder other than as children, develop the condition after 18 years of age.

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How Is It Diagnosed

In the past, the DSM-5 only considered separation anxiety to be a condition that lasted until a person was 18 years old. In more recent versions, however, the definition has expanded to include adults.

A doctor will diagnose separation anxiety by asking about the symptoms a person is experiencing. A mental health expert will use the criteria, including those used in the latest DSM-5 to make a diagnosis of separation anxiety in adults.

Doctors treat separation anxiety primarily through psychotherapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

This therapy aims to help a person identify their thoughts and behaviors that are making their separation anxiety worse.

Parents may also learn additional parenting techniques that can reduce their separation anxiety.

Sometimes an individual can benefit from group therapy and family therapy.

Anti-anxiety medication

Doctors may also temporarily prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help a person through their most acute symptoms of separation anxiety. These drugs, however, are not always long-term solutions to the underlying disorder, and some types of anti-anxiety medications can be addictive.

A person should engage in therapy so they can begin to change their ways of thinking to reduce the incidence of separation anxiety.

Support groups

A person may also wish to seek out a support group for those with anxiety and separation anxiety. People who join these groups can gain help with learning techniques for reducing separation-related anxiety.

Signs Of Separation Anxiety In Cats And What To Do About Them

What To Do About Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety

Weve all seen the memes since this COVID-19 pandemic started about dogs who have had enough of you walking them, thank you very much. And in turn, the cat memes are all about them wondering when we are going back to work and giving them their much needed personal space back. We get it. Dogs tend to be goofy and friendly while cats are, ahem, a bit more discerning about their company. The truth is, though, cats have plenty of different personality types, and many of them do experience separation anxiety. This is particularly true of cats who were orphaned. And with many of you going back to work if you havent gone back already, its a good idea to know the signs of separation anxiety in cats.

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Signs Of Kitten Separation Anxiety

If your kitten has separation anxiety, you may notice some behavioural changes. Watch for the following signs of separation anxiety:

  • Your kitten is being vocal or clinging to you before you leave
  • Improper urination inside of the house not consistent with litter training
  • Your kitten is withdrawing or hiding as you are about to leave
  • Excessive destructive behaviours in the home

What Causes Separation Anxiety

Research suggests that a mix of genetic and environmental factors all play a role in separation anxiety disorder.

When separation anxiety develops during childhood, it may be caused by the loss of a parent, long-term parental absence, parental conflict, parental alcoholism or parenting styles that stop children from developing autonomy.

Factors such as being raised in foster care, adopted or constantly relocating due to a parents career may also contribute to separation anxiety.

Some risk factors for other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, may also play a role in separation anxiety.

Common risk factors for anxiety include:

  • Early exposure to stressful, traumatic or negative life events

  • A family history of anxiety or other mental disorders

  • Certain childhood traits, such as shyness and/or behavioral inhibition

  • Physical conditions, such as heart arrhythmias or thyroid disorders

  • Use of certain medications and stimulants, including caffeine

Our guide to the causes of anxiety provides more information about these risk factors and their impact on common anxiety disorders.

Interestingly, adult separation anxiety disorder may itself be a risk factor for other mental health conditions. People with separation anxiety disorder may be more likely to develop:

Its also common for people with separation anxiety disorder to suffer from more than one mood or anxiety disorder.

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Making A Separation Anxiety Action Plan

Helping your friend create a separation anxiety action plan can help them control their distressing symptoms. This individual can also refer to this anxiety action plan whenever they feel intense stress caused by separation anxiety disorder.

Some helpful tips typically included in a separation anxiety plan are:

A separation anxiety plan does not eliminate anxiety. Instead, this resource is intended to help people tolerate and manage their anxiety. People dealing anxiety conditions, including separation anxiety disorder, use anxiety action plans.

Medical Problems To Rule Out First

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Incontinence Caused by Medical ProblemsSome dogs house soiling is caused by incontinence, a medical condition in which a dog leaks or voids his bladder. Dogs with incontinence problems often seem unaware that theyve soiled. Sometimes they void urine while asleep. A number of medical issuesincluding a urinary tract infection, a weak sphincter caused by old age, hormone-related problems after spay surgery, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushings disease, neurological problems and abnormalities of the genitaliacan cause urinary incontinence in dogs. Before attempting behavior modification for separation anxiety, please see your dogs veterinarian to rule out medical issues.

MedicationsThere are a number of medications that can cause frequent urination and house soiling. If your dog takes any medications, please contact his veterinarian to find out whether or not they might contribute to his house-soiling problems.

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Exercise Your Dog Before Departure

A tired dog is a calm dog. Exercising at least 30 minutes before departure will relax your dog and divert its attention to food and sleep.

Below is a useful video guide for the best workouts you and your dog can do together:

If you dont have time to go outside, watch this video for tips on how to exercise your dog inside the house:

How Parents Can Help Children At Home

There are things parents can do to help children and adolescents learn to manage their anxious feelings. Parent support plays a key role in helping kids learn to cope independently. Try these strategies at home to help your child succeed outside of the home:

  • Make a plan to help your child transition to school in the morning
  • Help your child reframe anxious thoughts by coming up with a list of positive thoughts
  • Write daily lunchbox notes that include positive phrases
  • Avoid overscheduling. Focus on playtime, downtime, and healthy sleep habits
  • Alert your child to changes in routine ahead of time
  • Empathize with your child and comment on progress made
  • American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 190-195.
  • Ibid.
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    Fixing Separation Anxiety One Step At A Time

    Effective treatment of separation anxiety can feel overwhelming. Its a slow process made more difficult by the fact that sometimes progress comes at a literal pace of one second at a time.

    Guiding your dog through a separation anxiety protocol might not be easy, but having not only gone through this process with many clients but also with my own beloved dog, I can honestly say there is hope and recovery is completely possible! Flores says.

    When Does Separation Anxiety Start In Babies

    What does Separation Anxiety look like in your cat and how can you help?

    You can blame separation anxiety on intellectual development. “During the first months of life, your baby has no idea that shes independent from her caregiver,” says Jude Cassidy, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, in College Park. That’s why young babies happily move from one lap to another.

    Around 8 months, however, your infant begins to distinguish between people, and he forms strong emotional attachments to his caregivers. He’s also learning the concept of object permanence: things and people still exist even when she can’t see them anymore. “When you add these developmental advances together, you’ve got the perfect equation for separation anxiety,” Dr. Cassidy says.

    Separation anxiety in infants often starts between 8 and 14 months old. It can rear its head when you’re dropping your baby off at daycareor when you’re simply going to the bathroom. And when it seems Baby is finally beginning to adapt, separation anxiety makes a resurgence around 15 months. It’s a little different this time around, though: Your child understands that you’re somewhere else when you leave, but she doesn’t know if you’re leaving for one minute or forever.

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