Dealing with separation anxiety

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
May 29, 2023 04:20 PM IST

Separating from a parent, partner, person, children, pet, spaces or objects can trigger panic attacks or anxiety. Here's how to deal with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is typical anxiety manifested in the form of concern, worry, dread or panic that stems from being away, separating from or losing an attachment figure. It could be a parent, partner, person, children, pet, in some cases it could be spaces and objects.

Dealing with separation anxiety (Photo by Jeff James on Unsplash)
Dealing with separation anxiety (Photo by Jeff James on Unsplash)

No matter how much we like to live in peace and harmony but so long as there are humans, conflicts are bound to happen however, smart people resolve conflicts and don't run away from them. You really can't preempt and prevent most conflicts but you can address them before they blow up into big confrontations as conflicts routinely happen in offices and homes.

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Dealing tips for adults:

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Shweta Singh, PhD MSW, Professor and Life Coach at Loyola University Chicago and Founder of Think Women Company, shared, “Conflicts happen for number of reasons, with the primary reason being expectations being a mismatch. Also, sometimes values are different, thinking is different. The perspective matters and most people want to explain their reasons. With reason, you can resolve conflicts and not dissolve relationships. Unaddressed conflicts lead to breakdown of relationships and can lead to separations and divorces.”

She emphasised, “A breakdown in a relationship makes people feel rejected and unwanted and insecure, which is not easy to deal with, on your own. Their self-esteem takes a hit, and it becomes a vicious cycle of negativity. Digging a little deeper, at the heart of conflict, is hurt and disappointment – a disappointment that declares, “I expected and thus imagined X, but I got Y”. This seems unfair and inability to express it leads to people internalizing the hurt and then it manifests as anger. Just like, basic needs of the body, the needs for emotional fulfillment are essential too. When people lose that sense of fulfillment, it raises other doubts and leads to separation anxiety too.”

Asserting that a relationship can evolve over time, Shweta Singh said, “When we begin a relationship, we must also anticipate problems, hurt disappointment and maybe separation. That makes dealing with relationship breakdown and the arising separation anxiety easier. Otherwise it can be overwhelming. Also families stay together even when partnership between a husband and wife breaks down. Its important to always bring in relative perception. No absolutes in life after all. So begin one step at a time and stay in balanced perspective. One day it does become the past but the journey of anxiety can be line of discovery and renewal of a different type of relationship. Always keeping an open mind and sensitivity towards the other helps diffuse conflict. Ultimately all feelings are valid and conversation brings reason and perspective.”

Dealing tips for children:

Meghna Yadav, Child Psychologist and Consultant Head of Training and Development at KLAY Centre for Child Development and Care, highlighted, “Separation anxiety is common in young children especially when they are about to start school or attending daycare after a long summer vacation. To begin with, parents need to be aware of the fact that this can be very stressful not only for children but also for parents, and it is this acceptance that enables parents to be able to deal with the anxiety more effectively, and be able to support their children in managing these feelings as well.”

She advised, “Open communication with the child about the upcoming changes is a good way to prepare them for school beforehand. Moreover, constant repetition over a period of time, leading up to the eventual return to school, helps reinforce the message at a subconscious level and can result in a more positive overall experience. Finally, following a routine that mirrors school hours is a wonderful way to reset the child’s body clock well ahead of time and also allows them to ease back into the routine gradually. Lastly, and most importantly, how the parent feels and emotes easily gets transmitted to the child, and in light of this, it is essential that a positive attitude and a happy atmosphere around the child, demonstrate trust in the school such that the child learns that it is a safe space for them.”

Dealing with separation anxiety in general:

Shubhangi Rastogi, Founder of Mind Alcove, pointed out, “Particularly in adults it could be dread or panic setting in from big life changes, such as moving away for college, or a preferred city, a new job, adjustment after marriage, having a child, separating from a romantic partner or break down of a marriage, friendship or relationship, or death. Physical symptoms are often seen in these individuals ranging from headache, nausea, heart palpitations, excessive sweating or nervous energy. It could impact sleep, social life and work.”

She suggested a 4 step process to deal with separation anxiety:

  1. Plan Ahead: Individuals experience separation anxiety because of the fear of the unknown. Planning ahead helps with priming your mind and body to expect the change or separation to happen.
  2. Start Small: Break the separation time into smaller time slots to get comfortable at a convenient pace. If a parent is looking at getting back to work, he or she should start by spending a couple of hours away from home for a week, to let the feeling sink in for both the parent as well as the child.
  3. Be Consistent: Slowly increase the separation time to make it comfortable and relaxed during the separation hours. The key here is acceptance, that this is a temporary separation and not a permanent one. In case when you plan to move cities or countries, start incorporating some things like food or culture from the new location to make you more comfortable for a more permanent change.
  4. Have Faith: The most important aspect is to have faith in yourself and the process. Once you have created the systems to keep things comfortable for your loved ones and yourself, have that faith and continue about your work in a peaceful way.

Feeling anxious while leaving a loved one is a completely normal emotion. It is important to get out of that comfort zone and use the above four steps to deal with this anxiety. Once this is achieved it will be easier to go about your daily routine in a calm manner.

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