Separation Anxiety and the Pandemic:

Eight Tips for Coping

by Dana Gerasimovich

As our society faces the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, we often are experiencing difficult thoughts and emotions. For example, children and young adults are often experiencing separation anxiety as society is transitioning to re-open.

Separation anxiety often affects children and young adults when they become uneasy, nervous, and fearful when they are away from loved ones. This anxiety, such as feeling anxious about their parents’ well-being, experiencing nightmares, and other fears can surface from being away from family members, such as parents and other close individuals. This may be even more difficult to deal with during times of crisis, such as this pandemic.

Separation anxiety may occur in a number of circumstances as we start to reenter society, such as parents returning to the workplace after working from home, college students returning to campus, and children returning to school. Under these circumstances, we may be feeling uncomfortable and anxious about how to handle being separate from loved ones with whom we have been in quarantine for months.

Here are some helpful tips for managing separation anxiety.

1. Manage the Apprehension of Something Bad Happening to a Loved One

Separation anxiety may be triggered by the Covid-19 situation. A child may be afraid of a loved one’s wellbeing as they go back into society. They may have been exposed to media information about the sickness and death resulting from Covid-19, or may especially be anxious if a loved one or friend was sick or died during the pandemic. While it is crucial that parents be supportive of a child’s feelings, it is equally important to reassure a child of all of the safety measures that are being taken to protect against this virus, such as wearing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing to minimize the risk.

2. Improve Sleep

Separation anxiety can cause sleep problems. Sleep is important for our physical and mental health. It helps the brain function in an effective manner, increases our energy level, boosts our immunity, and improves our mood. Sleep problems can also worsen anxiety or even cause it. Quarantine has often caused changes in schedules, so it is important to set a routine to help get proper sleep. Both college students and younger children should follow a daily routine which includes a scheduled time to wake up and time to go to sleep. Before going to bed, relaxing activities, such as reading, journaling, or meditating can be helpful in preparation for sleep. Caffeinated products should be avoided for a few hours before bedtime. Make sure the bed is for sleeping, not watching TV, using a cellular device, playing games, or doing homework. Even if the bed has been used as a place to do daily activities during quarantine, it is important for you to emphasize that the bed is the place for sleep only.

3. Schedule Virtual Check-ins

Virtual check-ins with those you’re separated from can help ease the effects of separation anxiety experienced by children and college students. By connecting regularly, anxiety can be reduced, because of the reassurance of knowing that they have a set time to speak with their concerned family and loved ones. Examples of virtual check-ins include FaceTime calls, Zoom meetings, or Snapchat video calls. It can be comforting to the anxious person to know that they can see, hear, communicate, and connect with loved ones… regularly!

4. Create a Consistent Schedule for the Day

Separation anxiety may cause difficulties with concentration and attention that can hinder the completion of daily tasks, such as homework and chores. The implementation of a consistent schedule can help increase focus. For instance, some parents set up a whiteboard or bulletin board with the child’s tasks assigned to time frames. Some parents provide a small reward for each completed task. The child will be focused on the reward after completing their task that can help in reducing anxious thoughts. College students can also create their own schedule of tasks and rewards to create consistency an comfort.

5. Identify and Create a Safe Place!

Identifying and designating a safe place has multiple positive benefits for children and young adults dealing with separation anxiety. This creates a place where children and young adults can work through their emotions and calm themselves down if they feel anxious. Also, a fun activity can involve selecting and decorating the safe place with items that add to the comfort of the location. For example, a child might bring a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, photograph, or toy. Safe places can enhance a sense of comfort and security that can help counteract anxiety.

6. Practice Relaxation and Meditation

There are a variety of relaxation and meditation techniques that are useful in reducing anxiety. They can be especially beneficial in reducing separation anxiety. Research shows meditation can calm a child down if they feel worried or upset. There are different breathing exercises a child can easily implement. For example, one breathing exercise involves the child closing their eyes and taking a deep breath in for five seconds, holding for five seconds, and then releasing for 5 seconds. This exercise can be repeated until the child feels calmer. Another breathing exercise involves having the child close their eyes and focus on one sound while taking deep breaths. These breathing exercises can help clear the youth’s mind of anxious thoughts.

7. Practice Goodbyes

Practicing goodbyes can be a good way for a child to prepare for the separation. By implementing goodbye rituals, the child is likely to become less anxious during future separations. The goodbyes should be consistent and quick. A loved one can give a brief hug and kiss. Long farewells often trigger a child’s anxiety because they have more time to think about the separation. Positive statements will be helpful to the child, such as “I’ll see you later.” By establishing goodbye rituals, caregivers can help a child develop healthy transitions for adjusting to separation.

8. Speak with a Counselor

Adjusting to separation can be stressful and can trigger mental health concerns. If a child or young adult continues to have difficulty with separation anxiety, speaking with a counselor can help provide additional strategies that can provide the needed support to handle the effects of separation anxiety. Along with traditional face-to-face methods, counseling has progressed with the use of technology that enables people to benefit from counseling through means, such as phone and video. Some people have found it very helpful to have phone or video sessions with a counselor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents, children, and others can receive support and guidance from a trusted professional to help them cope with separation anxiety as well as other problems.

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Separation anxiety can be more challenging during these unpredictable times. Parents, children, and others can reduce anxiety by taking a few simple steps to address these concerns and cope more effectively. By taking positive actions and seeking professional help when needed, you can get through this tough period.

How Can We Help?

Many people from all over the world have benefited from the successful, strategy-packed mental health services offered by The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping. You can, too!

  • If you have questions about any of the issues you are dealing with, why not set up a free, no-obligation consultation with Dana or one of our other Coping Counselors?
  • Simply call us at (516) 822-3131, with any questions or to set up your free appointment.
  • Or e-mail us at info@coping.com. We’ll be happy to respond to your e-mail.

The Coping Counselors- Providing quality psychological services for more than 35 years!

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