Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come. We all feel it at times; the first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech cause most people to feel fearful and nervous. But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Who Gets Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders can affect anyone at any age. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder. Approximately 40 million American adults (18 percent of the population) are affected by an anxiety disorder in any given year.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you may also be depressed. Some people with anxiety disorders abuse alcohol or other drugs in an effort to feel better. This may provide temporary relief, but can ultimately make the condition worse. It may be necessary to treat an alcohol or drug problem before the anxiety can be addressed.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Anxiety is hard to describe. You might feel like you’re standing in the middle of a crumbling building with nothing but an umbrella to protect you. Or you might feel like you’re holding onto a merry-go-round going 65 mph and can’t do anything to slow it down. You might feel butterflies in your stomach, or your heart might be racing. You could experience nightmares, panic, or painful thoughts or memories that you can’t control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event.

What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear you have when you must do something stressful. It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. Normal anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and do a better job. Normal anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life.

In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating. This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. In extreme cases, it may prevent you from entering an elevator or crossing the street or even leaving your home. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.

What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?

An anxiety disorder can take many forms, including:

  • panic disorder: characterized by bouts of intense fear or terror that develop quickly and unexpectedly
  • phobia: excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity
  • social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behavior
  • separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones
  • hypochondriasis: anxiety about your health
  • post-traumatic stress disorder: anxiety following a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, war, or being the victim of a crime

What Is the Outlook for Someone with an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Some people who have a mild anxiety disorder or a fear of something they can easily avoid decide to live with the condition and to not seek treatment.

It is important to understand that anxiety disorder is an illness and can be treated, even in severe cases. Treatment may not result in a complete cure, but in most cases, the symptoms can be controlled so you can live a normal life.


What Is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development. It occurs in babies between 8 and 12 months old. It usually disappears around age of 2.

Some children have symptoms of separation anxiety during their grade school and teenage years. This condition is called separation anxiety disorder or SAD. Three to four percent of children suffer from SAD (Walker, et al., 2011).

SAD tends to be indicative of general mood and mental health issues: Around one-third of children with SAD will be diagnosed with mental illness as an adult. Approximately half of childhood mental health referrals are for suspected SAD (Ehrenreich, et al., 2008).

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of SAD occur when a child is separated from parents or caregivers. Fear of separation can also cause anxiety-related behaviors. Some of the most common behaviors include:

  • clinging to parents
  • extreme and severe crying
  • refusal to do things that require separation
  • physical illness, such as headaches or vomiting
  • violent, emotional temper tantrums
  • refusal to go to school
  • poor school performance
  • failure to interact in a healthy manner with other children
  • refusing to sleep alone
  • nightmares

Risk Factors for Separation Anxiety Disorder

SAD is more likely to occur in children with:

  • a family history of anxiety/depression
  • shy, timid personalities
  • low socioeconomic status
  • overprotective parents
  • a lack of appropriate parental interaction
  • problems dealing with kids their own age

SAD can also occur after a stressful life event such as:

  • moving to a new home
  • switching schools
  • divorce
  • the death of a close family member

How Is Separation Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

Children that experience three or more of the above symptoms may be diagnosed with SAD. Your doctor may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Your doctor might also watch you interact with your child. This shows whether your parenting style affects how your child deals with anxiety.

How Is Separation Anxiety Disorder Treated?

Therapy and medication are both used to treat SAD. Both treatment methods can help a child deal with anxiety in a positive way.


The most effective therapy is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). With CBT, children are taught coping techniques for anxiety. Common techniques are deep breathing and relaxation.

Parent child interaction therapy is another way to treat SAD. Parent child therapy can be broken into three main treatment phases:

  • Child-Directed Interaction (CDI), which focuses on improving the quality of the parent/child relationship. It involves warmth, attention, and praise. These help strengthen a child’s feeling of safety.
  • Bravery-Directed Interaction (BDI), which educates parents about why their child feels anxiety. Your child’s therapist will develop a bravery ladder. The ladder shows situations that cause anxious feelings. It establishes rewards for positive reactions.
  • Parent-Directed Interaction (PDI), which teaches parents to communicate clearly with their child. This helps to manage poor behavior.

The school environment is another key to successful treatment. Your child needs a safe place to go when he or she feels anxious. There should also be a way for your child to communicate with you if necessary during schools hours or other times he or she is away from home. Finally, your child’s teacher should encourage interaction with other classmates. If you have concerns about your child’s classroom, speak with the teacher, principle, or a guidance counselor.


There are no specific medications for SAD. Antidepressants are sometimes used in older children with this condition. However, children must be monitored closely for side effects.

Effects of Separation Anxiety Disorder on Family Life

Emotional and social development are both seriously affected by SAD. The condition can cause a child to avoid experiences crucial to normal development.

SAD can also affect family life. Some family problems associated with SAD are:

  • family activities that are limited by negative behavior
  • parents with little to no time for themselves or each other, resulting in frustration
  • siblings that become jealous of the extra attention given to the child with SAD

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