I don’t care what anyone thinks, separation anxiety sucks. To the mentally and emotionally balanced individual it may seem comedic. I know my friends and family ridiculed me on this fear for years, mentioning how it was ‘all in my head.’ The insight didn’t help me much to say the least.
Separation anxiety involves excessive fear around separating from a particular environment, a pet, parents, or a partner.
As I did my own detective work as to where this all came from I realized that it began when I lost a loved one. I was around 6 years of age when our best family friend (I called him uncle) passed away due to food poisoning. It was a shocker, and I vividly remember being locked in my bedroom while my parents sobbed in the living room.
At first I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I started to put the pieces of their words together. I experienced an intense moment of overwhelm, an out of body experience, and I was literally frozen. It was my first encounter with dying. I was never told much about dying by my parents, it was almost sinful to discuss.
This was a mistake in my eyes.
Separation anxiety can be embarrassing, self sabotaging, and it can lower our feelings of self worth and self esteem and turn us into powerless victims.
Here are a few examples of what life can be like for a person in this state:
- There is a reluctance to travel
- A fear of sleeping away from their own homes
- There can be nightmares related to separation
- Gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, depersonalization, headaches and even vomiting can appear
- Repeated panic attacks
Not only is it possible for adults at any age to suffer from separation anxiety, but 45% of sufferers first manifest SAD without any specific history from childhood. Now, let me add my own two cents to this study. Although 45% of sufferers manifest SAD from adulthood and not childhood, I believe there are early connections that started the process from childhood.
Any childhood trauma has the potential to connect one form of fear to another.
If a lack of love was the case as a child, this could easily lead to a child unconsciously getting sick (last resort for love) to meet their need for love. This can then lead to maintaining sickness, and unconsciously move a person towards the addiction to suffering, therefore sorting for more ways to suffer as an adult, leading to separation anxiety.
The subconscious mind is a goal achieving agency. Any need that hasn’t been filled as a child will be looked to be fulfilled in any way as an adult. Also, any label that was given to a child will be looked to be fulfilled as an identity as an adult.
Deep, and we thought we were consciously making all our decisions in day to day life. Sorry to say, but the majority of who you are today is connected to your interpretations over yourself and the world, which was engrained as a child.
Here’s what to do to begin overcoming separation anxiety starting today:
1. Imagery exercises with a focus on bodily engagement
Vividly imagine being at home alone, turning on your favourite song (act it out), see yourself making your favourite cup of tea, smell and taste the tea, lay down in total peace, start listening to one of your favourite anxiety guy audiobooks.
Your freedom depends on your ability to pretend.
Since the subconscious mind can be spoken to through our conscious imagination coupled with our emotions, we must get good at imagery work. Pretend, just as an actor would to imagine the best case future scenario, while using your hands, facial expressions, and body language to go through what it would actually be like.
2. Focus on the gains, rather than the losses
Separation anxiety is prolonged simply because we’re not consciously taking control of our focus. Of course, there’s also a low level of trust that we have in the optimistic ideas that cross our minds, this must also be reframed. But for now let’s focus on what you’re going to gain from being home alone (for example), rather than what you’ll lose.
Focus on the fact that you won’t have to smell your stinky husband, watch bad TV, or look to live up to anyones expectations. In reality, you’ll get to study that course you always wanted to, read a book in peace, or take a calming bath undistracted.
Where focus goes is where our emotions flow.
We must learn to re-present new ideas to our minds and bodies as a counter to old limiting ideas based mostly around less than a handful of ‘bad’ experiences. Life gets better when our focus turns elsewhere consistently.
3. Get off social media
There are of course exceptions to this rule. You could be in a great outcome focused Facebook anxiety support group meeting like minded people. But if that’s not the case it’s best to not use social media as a distraction method.
Distraction methods may alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, but what you don’t acknowledge and resolve only gets louder over time. Just take a 2 year old for example. If the two year old doesn’t get what he or she wants, watch out! A hurricane of tears and sounds overtake the whole room potentially leaving everyone highly overwhelmed.
Use my 80/20 rule for this one.
When on social media, 80% of the time should be spent bettering your mental and emotional state in some way. 20% can be spent entertaining yourself through other peoples feeds. This is a good starting point that will lead to total disinterest around other peoples lives, and your separation anxiety can only benefit positively.
4. Make peace with silence
So many of you know me for the words ‘make peace with peace’ through my podcast (here’s the Apple link). Peace can be experienced anywhere and anytime no matter what’s taking place. However, to get to that level of inner freedom we must first release the ‘overflowing cup’ of inner chatter going on within you.
To release ourselves from intrusive and negative thoughts isn’t to attempt to shut them out every time. The goal is to become disinterested and bored by them. You wouldn’t sit there and watch paint dry for an hour would you? Nor would you pay attention to thoughts that hold no power over you anymore.
To make peace with silence means to spend time in an undistracted and silent environment. Once this is achieved, the practice of ‘detachment’ from our thoughts arise as we view them as clouds coming and going.
The essence of meditation. This is an essential component to healing separation anxiety, since many times it’s the chaos, stimulation, and familiarity that we lose when our comfort people leave us. This need for stimulation and action must be replaced with being content in silence, only then can we open our minds to a deeper understanding of reality.
Here are a few self sabotaging words people use when experiencing separation anxiety:
- “I’m such a loser.”
- “I’m such a baby.”
- “Why is god punishing me?”
You communicate with yourself more than anyone else in this world.
It would make no sense then to treat yourself worse than you treat others. You are all you have, and you’re reading this post and doing the programs in the hopes of bettering your overall health and wellness. So it’s essential that you take a hard look at your compassion levels toward yourself today.
It’s easy to follow the lead of your initial emotional reaction to something.
It’s harder (at first) and more beneficial to open up to a new way of perceiving the situation and act in an opposing way to the initial fear. This is where the magic is. When you can begin opposing your daily unconscious habits, you’re in the process of healing from anxiety.
6. Reframe your past traumas
Key word, reframe, not talk about your past traumas.
Talking about your past traumas in the hope of a rational and logical conclusion is the worst strategy I’ve ever come across for healing anxiety. It’s the biggest reason why I chose to be a practitioner and life coach rather than a mental health counsellor.
The detective work is important, don’t get me wrong. However, we must do something with the past experiences that have led to separation anxiety today, and not hope that thinking and talking about it will be enough to shift our perceptions and emotions.
Emotional reframing is the single most powerful tool for healing all forms of anxiety. However, starting the journey with someone is highly recommended rather than going about it alone at the start.
Emotional reframing does three things:
- It places a new meaning over events from your past that have been viewed as ‘bad’ moments
- Reframing discharges stored negative emotions within the brain and body
- It moves a person forward in time (rather than living in the past and by the rules of yesterday)
- Emotional reframing allows you to forgive yourself and others, at the deepest levels
Reframing relies on the persons level of absorption in the process. If you question the process, talk yourself out of it, or are focused on a quick fix it won’t work. You have to follow instructions, let go as best you can, and be courageous in the process.
Here’s an example of the reframing practices that I use in the end the anxiety and inner circle programs.
- “I’m afraid of being separated by others, therefore I must do all I can for this not to happen.”
Whereas an outcome and progress focused mindset would be:
- “Every anxious moment is just one more opportunity to rise above my fears.”
The victim like mindset puts power in the hands of everything on the outside, the outcome focused mindset places power back onto you. Mindset comes before skill sets for me. Because it’s the mindset, the intention, the approach that determines the effectiveness of the skill sets. make sure you’re on board.
8. Understand your anxiety symptoms better
Many people get caught up in their anxiety symptoms thinking that they’re mentally, emotionally, or physically harmful. The truth is that your symptoms of anxiety are nothing more than messages A message brought to you by the youngest version of you that still lives within.
Compassion arises when we can see the message within the anxiety symptom, and appreciate it.
The inner child warns us of future potential dangers based on what it has experienced for the past. How nice of us to have a warning system like this isn’t it? The question then is how do we de-activate this internal alarm system when it’s not needed?
When the perceptions of reality for the inner child change, so does the emotional state of the adult.
Which takes us right back to emotional reframing.
But, also in the moment of fear what we do is important. We have about a 10 second window within the moment of separation anxiety showing up where we can diffuse or escalate the problem. As we thank the inner child for showing up and letting us know of the fears that come with alone time, we welcome in a new image of what’s going to take place, and respond rather than react.
9. Reward yourself
If you felt like you defied your fears, it’s time for a reward!
We all love rewards, especially when they come from us to us. We look to do things in the hopes of a reward, which only motivates us further. If you feel like you implemented any of these suggestions towards separation anxiety, and have shifted your perceptions, you may consider:
- A warm bath
- A new book
- A piece of dark chocolate
- A walk in the park
- A good movie
Or anything else that comes to mind that only furthers your progress.
This was an integral part of my anxiety recovery and it needs to be adopted into any unfamiliar challenge you embark on. This reward system works extremely well for someone you know who may be suffering from anxiety. So dangle the carrot, and get to work.
10. Practice deepening your faith