How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome
Are you experiencing intense feelings of loss because your children have left home? Do you feel like people don’t understand what you are going through? If so, you may have empty nest syndrome.
Most people underestimate the feelings that accompany this syndrome, and this causes empty nesters to feel even more alone. The sense of a loss of purpose or emptiness can go away if you receive the right support. The period that the condition lasts for differs from one person to another. Even though this syndrome usually lasts a few months, it can last up to two years.
It is important to keep in mind that letting go of your adult children is not easy, but fortunately, learning how to cope with these intense feelings is possible.
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome refers to a condition in which parents experience feelings of sadness when their children move out of their family home. Most parents don’t expect to experience a dramatic shift in their mental health, but once their last child moves out, a sense of loss can take over.
Some people are more likely to have this condition than others even though all parents are at risk. According to the Better Health Channel, women are more likely to experience empty nesting because they are usually the primary caregiver. Others who are full-time parents find difficulty in accepting change, believe their kids are still dependent on them, are in unstable marriages, or believe that being a parent defines them, are also at higher risk of experiencing empty nest syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome
Recognizing that you have empty nest syndrome is the first key to learning how to overcome it. There are three common characteristics of empty nesters, and they include:
1. A Sense of Loss
You may feel empty and feel that your life is meaningless without your children. Feeling lonely is quite common too, because you may no longer be able to spend time with your children as frequently as you used to when they were living with you. The house is probably quieter and this silence might be painful for you.
You may be worried that your children are not going to do well without you, or you might even be afraid to plan for your future without your adult children.
Intense grief is usually felt when your loved ones pass away. Unfortunately, severe empty nest syndrome can also cause grief, albeit a different type.
There are a few more symptoms in addition to the main symptoms above, and they include panic attacks, anxiety, need for isolation, insomnia, and finding things less interesting.
How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome
Learning to let go of your children when they leave home is possible. Coping with the emptiness might be difficult, but you can follow these strategies to help yourself and improve your well-being.
1. Redefine Who You Are
The first step you need to take is to redefine who you are and find a new purpose in life. Search for things you are interested in, and try to make something out of it. You need to convince yourself that you are no longer just a mom or a dad.
Find a new role or a career that you are happy with. It doesn’t need to be a job if you aren’t looking to earn or change jobs right now - taking up a new hobby that you are passionate about is a great way to add purpose back into your life. Whether it’s painting, cross-stitching, sewing or playing a sport, putting your physical energy into something other than chores can help you to slowly heal and accept this new phase of your life.
2. Practice Self-Care
Try to remember all the times you wanted a day for yourself when your children were home. Take a deep breath, you can reach back and remember! Now is the time to rekindle that want. Take long baths, exercise, eat better and do what you love. The Mayo Clinic states that practicing self-care - exercise in particular - can prevent depression and improve your overall mental health. By scheduling time for yourself in your daily routine, you can become happier in life and fight feelings of depression or loneliness.
3. Throw Yourself Into New Challenges
Being challenged is a great way to overcome feelings of boredom and loneliness that you may feel when your nest is empty. There are so many challenges you can occupy yourself with to fill up the extra free time you have now.
An example includes meeting new people from around the world. This would help you develop more authentic relationships outside your home. And it doesn’t have to cost money - there are safe, online pen pal schemes you can opt into, and international volunteering organizations you can join. Believe you can do anything and accept new opportunities with an open mindset.
4. Recognize the Benefits of an Empty Nest
Empty nests can cause loneliness, fear, and a sense of loss, but there are still many benefits to it. You might feel guilty at first when thinking about the benefits, but know that accepting the positives does not make you a bad parent - it will just help you to decrease those negative feelings.
With an empty nest, you can open a new chapter with your spouse. Date nights are much more possible after your children leave and are great for rebuilding the relationship you had with your partner before kids came along. If you are a single parent, this would be a great time to begin dating again, if you feel emotionally ready.
Also, an empty nest can give you more freedom to do whatever you want and to explore your personal goals that may have gotten lost along the way. This can sometimes even be helpful for your children - knowing that you are facing the world independently and taking time for yourself will encourage them to do the same. Keep all these benefits in mind when you are dealing with the sorrow that may accompany the empty nest.
5. Find Professional Help
Even though this condition is not categorized as a clinical diagnosis according to the Mayo Clinic Health System, you can seek professional help or other forms of help like support groups if the above steps do not work for you. A mental health professional can help you understand the way you are feeling and make it easier for you to accept change by engaging in techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy with you.
How Can You Prevent Empty Nest Syndrome?
There are a few ways you can prevent negative feelings that accompany an empty nest before having to deal with it. Below are the steps you can follow.
1. Plan Ahead of Time
Planning ahead from when your first child leaves home can help you prepare for the day you no longer have children at home. Recognize the feelings you experience when you let go of your first child and find interests that can help you overcome those feelings.
You could make new friends outside the home environment before all your children leave to establish true social connections that will prevent the feeling of loneliness. Planning ahead is the best method for overcoming depression.
2. Try Not to Chick in with Your Children Too Frequently
Thinking about your children frequently can cause you to long for them even more. You can talk to them and check in with them regularly, but try not to overdo it. They need the space to grow, and so do you.
Talk to your children about how you are feeling, and maybe come up with a specific time in the day or week that it’s convenient for you all to speak. Do what is best for you because you are just as important as your children.
3. Find Other Ways to Spend Time with Your Children After They Leave Home
You can set a certain schedule for when you and your children can meet and do fun things together. Make this schedule practical, like suggesting that you all have a family day out once a month.
By creating a schedule, you will have something to look forward to. You can even spend some time planning the family day out. Other ways to spend time with your kids include eating a meal together once a week, having video calls from time to time, going out for a walk sometimes, and even shopping together.
This syndrome can cause severe symptoms of sadness and emptiness. Fortunately, you can overcome it by redefining who you are, finding new interests, taking care of yourself, and looking at the positive side of an empty nest.
The best method to deal with empty nest syndrome is by preventing it in the first place. You can do so by planning ahead of time, communicating with your children about your fears about them moving on, and finding other ways to spend time without your children.
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Halimeh is an experienced teacher who has worked in a variety of US classroom settings. She is highly experienced in curriculum development, educational technology, and creative writing.