coping with empty-nest syndrome

CARE

How to cope when kids fly the coop

  • While not a clinical diagnosis, "empty-nest syndrome" is completely normal.
  • Empty nest syndrome tends to happen more often to the child’s main caregiver.
  • Most virtual visits cost the same as a traditional in-person office visit depending on insurance.

What is empty nest syndrome?

When your last child moves away from home for college or other reasons, you may experience mild grief, depression, anxiety and even an identity crisis. The common term for these feelings is "empty-nest syndrome". It is completely normal. Empty nest syndrome tends to happen more often to the child’s main caregiver.

How to tell if you might be susceptible to empty nest syndrome

Research shows that some people are more likely to have problems adjusting when children leave home. Signs you might belong to this group include:

  • You had challenges yourself when you left home.
  • You were very emotional when your child first started school.
  • You are a full-time parent or identify strongly with being a parent.
  • You are in a difficult marriage or living situation.
  • You are worried about your child’s maturity or ability to live outside your home.

How to manage becoming an empty nester

Here are a few tips to help you make the transition from a home with children to one without.

Prepare mentally, emotionally and physically

Teach your child important life skills such as cooking and doing laundry so you'll both feel more prepared when your child is in the real world without you.  If you had trouble when you left home, think about what might have helped you at that time in life and bring that insight into a conversation with your child.   Talk to your child about the transition and plan for how you will stay connected.  Share your communication needs and encourage them to share their needs with you. 

Pace yourself

Don't make big changes too soon. For example, it’s probably a good idea to hold off remodeling your child's room. Give everyone time to settle in and adjust before you start to throw things out. Wait until you and your child are in a good frame of mind—you never know what keepsake or seemingly ordinary item holds special value to your child until you throw it out.

Seek support

Talk about what you are thinking and feeling and share your experiences. Many of your friends, family or medical provider may have already experienced this. Find someone who can offer a supportive ear and who is a good resource for you. If anxiety or depression worsens, seek professional help.

Virtual visits are a great way to get medical care without having to leave your home, saving you time and travel.

Focus on yourself

After years of giving attention to your child or children, focus on you and the things you like to do. Now is a great time to find or renew hobbies.  It does not have to be an empty nest, it can be a nest that now has more room for you.  Just a few ideas: throw a dinner/watch/sports party, find a new exercise or wellness routine, take a class or travel.  Staying healthy and active helps relieve stress and increases serotonin for a natural mood boost.

Re-energize your relationships

Renew and deepen relationships with your family and friends. Spend more quality time with those special people in your life you always wished you had more time for and build some new memories together.

If you’re not an empty nester quite yet, plan ahead. Make small changes now that can help you better manage the transition when it does happen. And when it’s time for your child or children to leave home, be kind to yourself. And if you do experience mental health challenges that get worse over time, seek care from a mental health professional.

 

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