What is Separation Anxiety Disorder (F93.0)?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What is Separation Anxiety Disorder (F93.0)?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Separation Anxiety Disorder used to be strictly a children’s condition.

In the past Separation Anxiety Disorder was listed in the section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) under the category of Disorders First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence.  Recently in the reorganization of the DSM, this disorder was moved to the chapter on anxiety disorders.

Increasingly we recognize that there are adults who suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder.  In children, if they have the symptoms for four weeks or more, that meets criteria.  But when we see this disorder in adults we expected it to last at least six months.  This is a disorder which may come and go throughout the lifespan.  It is likely to begin after, or to be triggered by, stressful events.

Separation Anxiety Disorder is about a fear of losing the major attachment figure.

In Separation Anxiety Disorder there is a fear of leaving home or being separated from a major attachment figure.  This is very different from people who are simply afraid of going out of the house, being around crowds, or meeting strangers.  In Separation Anxiety Disorder it is the fear of losing that significant person which causes them extreme distress.

This fear is clearly far more than life circumstances would warrant.  People with this disorder need to know where that important person is it all times.  And they may have an excessive need to stay in constant contact with their major attachment figure.  These people may be given to constantly texting, and may become quite upset if they’re communications are not immediately responded to.

You may also fear being taken away.

Separation Anxiety Disorder is also the fear that something will take you away from that major attachment feature.  People with this disorder worry about an illness, kidnapping or being forcibly taken from a major attachment figure. Some people with this disorder are unable to be in a room by themselves.

Separation Anxiety Disorder can make you refuse to leave home.

The classic example of this is the child who is terrified of leaving their mother to go to kindergarten on the first day of school.  In normal children, if we expect them to get over this fear after a few days.  But in those with Separation Anxiety Disorder that fear continues for long periods of time. We may continue to see this behavior as children get older.  They may have frequent illnesses which keep them at home with their important attachment figure.

Like most other anxiety disorders, Separation Anxiety Disorder typically begins in childhood, but it may well continue throughout adult life.  In diagnosing this disorder the professional looks at the developmental stage of a person to see if what they are going through is appropriate.

Some adults are so afraid of leaving their significant family member that they are unable to venture out into society alone.  They will only be willing to go outside the house, to the store or an appointment, if that major attachment figure accompanies them.

That huge fear of being alone maybe Separation Anxiety Disorder.

An abiding characteristic of Separation Anxiety Disorder is the extreme level of fear of being alone.  Any time this person is separated from their major attachment figure, they become anxious and may even become terrified.

In children, the attachment figure is likely to be their parents or caregiver.  In adulthood people with this disorder are likely to become very anxious when separated from their spouse, partner or their children.

If that important person is not home, then you can’t sleep.

People with Separation Anxiety Disorder find that they are unable to sleep when the major attachment figure is not in the house.  They may stay up all night on those occasions when that person they’re attached to needs to be gone overnight.

The person with Separation Anxiety Disorder will have a constant need for reassurance.  This need may result in frequent phone calls or other efforts to contact the attachment figure who is not there.  This constant need for reassurance may begin to interfere with their partner’s ability to work.

Separation Anxiety Disorder causes nightmares about being separated.

In this disorder, the content of the nightmare is that the important person will be taken from you or you from them and that you will never ever be able to see them again. These nightmares can be recurrent and play a role in maintaining the other symptoms.

Separation Anxiety Disorder can make you physically ill.

Symptoms of this disorder can look just like a physical illness.  These symptoms may include headaches, inability to eat, nausea, or even vomiting if there’s a chance that you’ll be separated from this major attachment figure in your life.

People with Separation Anxiety Disorder are likely to be described by others as needy and insecure.

There is help for Separation Anxiety Disorder.

While this condition often begins in childhood and may continue well into adulthood, someone with this issue does not have to continue to suffer.  There are treatments available.  If you or someone you love suffers from this condition, consider getting professional help.

More on this and other anxiety disorders see:  Anxiety

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5, some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Is your Anxiety a disease?

By David Joel Miller

Anxiety provoking.

Anxiety.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Some fear is normal, too much is an anxiety disorder.

How can you tell if your fears and anxieties are normal or are they the signs of a more serious mental illness? In everyday language, there is not much difference between fears and anxieties. In technical, mental health terms there are some key differences between fears, anxieties and the times your anxiety symptoms get out of control and get diagnosed as a mental illness.

Of all the mental illness, Anxiety disorders are the most common. In any given year one in five Americans will experience Anxiety so severe it should be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. Prevalence rates around the world are very similar to the U. S. experience. Anxiety disorders are also the ones most likely to be seen by medical doctors as the symptoms often look like symptoms of physical illnesses.

Fear in the mental health sense is a reaction to a thing or situation that cause an immediate reaction. You see something, something happens and you get that feeling you need to do something now. The standard reactions are to freeze, flee or fight.

Say you see a poisonous snake and you become very scared. This sounds rational. But if you are afraid to visit a school because they might have pictures of snakes up in the science classroom, that is excessive and should qualify you for some kind of mental health diagnosis. Which diagnosis? We are not there yet.

Anxiety, the mental health type definition, is a feeling of nervousness or uncomfortable about something that may happen in the future. People with anxiety disorders become so afraid that something will or might happen in the future that they have to alter their present to avoid these possibilities.

People commonly report that they have “Panic attacks” or “Anxiety attacks.” If the thing setting off the anxiety attack is something that has a real potential danger then having fear and freezing, fleeing or fighting might all be reasonable adaptive behaviors. Attacks of a symptom do not always equal a mental illness.

While some anxiety disorders are brief most, to get diagnosed, need to be more than temporary conditions. The criteria for many anxiety disorders it’s that you must have had this anxiety for six months or more. Of course, during that time period, your anxiety may have episodes of getting stronger and other times it may be less troublesome. If it has interfered with your life for 6 months or more you most likely have an anxiety disorder.

Not every case of nervousness or anxiety is the result of having an anxiety disorder. Someone who is depressed and has difficulty doing things they used to do is likely to become anxious. We include that kind of anxiety as part of the depression. Same thing when someone with a psychotic disorder becomes fearful and think people are watching them. That paranoia is part of the psychosis and does not get a separate diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

What makes this fear diagnosable is when it begins to interfere with or change your behavior or upset you. If you can’t leave the house or work because of your anxiety, that is probably a diagnosable anxiety disorder. If your extreme fearfulness, anxiety or hyper reactiveness start affecting your relationships, that is a probable diagnosis.

There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders depending on what is causing your fear or anxiety. Further complicating this picture is that many people who have anxiety disorders have more than one kind. Having multiple anxiety disorders is considered very common.

Since people with anxiety disorders have by definition “excessive” fear or anxiety it takes an outside observer, usually a therapist to evaluate the risk and see if this person’s fear is reasonable given their situation and their life experiences.

Most anxiety disorders start in childhood, often before the end of middle school. Over time and untreated anxiety disorders get worse. The stats say two of every three people with anxiety disorders are women. I believe this is partly cultural. Boys and men are taught to approach what they fear. Attack it. Women are supposed to get away. This results in anxious men becoming more violent or using a substance to cover up their anxiety and as a result, they get a behavioral or substance use diagnosis.

Physical sensations may be symptoms of anxiety.

Different people experience anxiety differently. Anxiety symptoms are frequently physical and many people interpret their anxiety symptoms as a physical illness.

If you experience an anxiety attack you may feel dizzy or light-headed. You may feel disoriented, have difficulty breathing or swallowing. The heart may race, you might sweat or tremble all over.  Despite the feeling you want to run your legs could become rubbery or jelly-like.

Some people experience gastrointestinal symptoms, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or feeling like you may vomit. Sleep disturbances, mind racing, and confused thoughts can result in Anxiety disorders getting confused with Bipolar Disorder and other mental illnesses.

Here is the most recent list of recognized Anxiety Disorders. These are necessarily brief, general descriptions of the disorders in plain language. For the specific criteria consult the relevant edition of the DSM.  For more on each separate disorder look for the articles I have written on specific disorders. I plan to write more of these posts on specific anxiety disorders in the future.

You will find the link to other articles on anxiety below.

Separation Anxiety Disorder.

This disorder customarily starts early in life. The child is afraid to leave or be away from a caregiver. They may think that something bad will happen to them or the caregiver if they are separated. We used to think of this mostly as a disorder of children and that they should “grow out of it.” We are starting to think that you can have this at any point in your life and that many clingy needy adults had this and or an attachment disorder since childhood.

Selective Mutism.

Someone who speaks normally at home but is afraid to or refuses to speak when in public or around strangers fits the description of Selective Mutism. The criteria for this disorder does not imply that the child is being poorly behaved but just that they are so afraid they can’t speak around strangers. The result is poor grades or school failure. As they get older this may lessen but again there are adults who just avoid speaking around strangers as much as possible.

Specific Phobia.

Spiders and snakes, blood, heights or flying can all be objects of a specific phobia. With Specific Phobia we can point to things or situations that are the cause of the anxiety. People with specific phobias often had fears of several things or situations and may have other anxiety disorders as well.

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia).

In this disorder the anxious person is afraid of social situations where others may watch them, evaluate them or otherwise form an opinion about them. The fear here is about doing something “wrong” or being judged. This is about having your peer’s think poorly of you, what you wear or how you do things. In severe cases, people avoid eating in public or going to social gatherings.

Panic Disorder.

A Panic disorder involves many of the physical symptoms we talked about above. The person having the panic attack may have shortness of breath or chest pain and think they are having a heart attack. Having had one attack people become afraid to leave the house for fear they will have another and not be able to get help in time.

Agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia translates as “fear of the marketplace” mostly this involves crowded situations. Fear of buses, standing in lines, crowded places, stores, and similar situations. In severe cases, the person becomes unable to leave the house to go shopping and either needs someone to go with them or just go at times the store will be very empty.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

This involves being over-anxious all the time. A person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is anxious all the time about most anything. There may be real life causes for this anxiety, like living through a war or being assaulted or harmed. The professional has to look carefully to separate this from PTSD or other Trauma and Stressor-related disorders.

There are also diagnoses for anxiety problems caused by drugs, medications, medical conditions or other factors.

For more on Anxiety, treatments for anxiety and related issues see:

counselorssoapbox.com Anxiety Post list.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.