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How can humans overcome separation anxiety from their pets?

School re-openings are just a few weeks away. Furlough schemes are changing, and lockdown restrictions are loosening. What will it be like for the nation’s pets and their owners as home life changes?

There has been a lot of advice about preparing your pets for your return to work, but National Animal Welfare Trust recognises that after a long period at home, owners may well experience symptoms of separation anxiety as they spend more time away from home.

We asked cat-owner and BACP-registered psychotherapist and counsellor Naz Altinok to think about the challenges facing humans and to offer some advice. As well as supporting people suffering from anxiety and isolation, she’s studied what animals may symbolise for us and the psychological effects on pet bereavement.

The first thing Naz says is if you’re feeling anxious or upset about separating from your pet at all, rest assured, it is entirely natural.

Here’s Naz’s advice on how to best manage your fears and ensure an easier transition:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

The pandemic has heightened all of our emotions. We are all experiencing a global trauma and it is completely understandable to feel things deeply at this time. Acknowledge how you are feeling about the prospect of leaving your pet at home.

2. Don’t judge yourself harshly

Anxiety is a feeling people have when something doesn’t feel safe. It’s natural to think leaving your pets at home when you go back to work/school may feel unsafe. You have been there for each other throughout the lockdown after all.

Therefore, instead of judging your feelings around separation anxiety, find some space for self-compassion and understanding. Having anxiety about leaving your pet shows how connected you are to your animal. Accepting this can set you free from those unsettling emotions.

3. Don’t be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt

One of the things you might be feeling is guilt at leaving your pet at home. Naturally, you don’t want to feel you’re traumatising your pets especially if it’s a rescue and they’ve had bad experiences previously.

If you’re feeling bad, then at those times, acknowledge your commitment, care and support for your pet as being important. As their primary carers, we can only provide a high level of care if we are supporting our own wellbeing. This might mean going out more on your own to see friends and family, taking exercise, grabbing some fresh air and, of course, going back to work.

4. Plan ahead

Before your back-to-work day comes, start preparing for it. Plan which times you will be away and make the necessary arrangements for a pet sitter or dog walker. This will immediately make you feel more in control and prepared for what’s coming up.

5. Rev up the routine

Having a routine makes us feel more in control and can reduce anxiety. Creating a positive goodbye routine may help to reduce the negative associations of having to leave home without your pet. Try giving your pet their favourite snack or putting on a happy song before you leave.

6. Practise periods apart

Gradual exposure is a common technique in the world of counselling. In order to manage your separation anxiety, try slowly and gradually exposing yourself to the event of separation in a safe way. Start by leaving the house for 10 mins, then 30 mins, then a couple of hours before building up to then the length you usually are out at work or school. Repeating this action in this way, is showing your brain that there isn’t danger thus reducing anxiety.

7. Set boundaries

Setting boundaries is important in all aspects of our lives, and that’s no different with our pets. Try being separated from your pet in your home (a safe space) – for example, when you go to the bathroom – as a way of managing your separation anxiety. It will feel less alarming and less emotionally- threatening.

As you can tell, we are not that different from our little (or big) companions. Both people and animals can experience separation anxiety and both will ultimately benefit from the tips above!

If you’d like to find out more about Naz’s work, please visit

Website: www.altinoktherapy.com

If you think any of your pets are suffering from anxiety, then we would advise you seek the help of a qualified animal behaviourist.

A note of caution:  how we react to separation is influenced by how we attach and bond with people. This is significantly shaped by our upbringing. If you have unusual stress, excessive worrying and physical anxiety symptoms about leaving your pet at home that takes over your day to day living, it may be beneficial to seek professional support.

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