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What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

February 7, 2024

7 min read

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Author : United We Care
Clinically approved by : Dr.Vasudha
What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Introduction

With the birth of a child, parents are born as well. As a parent, you take on the responsibility of caring, nurturing, and supporting your children until they are adults. You’re looking for at least fifteen to eighteen years of solid commitment, wherein you dedicate the majority of your time to the raising and well-being of your children. When a parent does their job well, the child experiences a healthy transition into adulthood and is able to make good choices for their personal and professional life independently. The child eventually moves out of their parent’s home and creates a life for themself. While this is the ideal scenario for the happy life of the child, you, as a parent, may suddenly find yourself lonely. For the longest time, you looked after the physical and emotional well-being of your children, and now that they’re capable of doing so by themselves, you might start feeling a void in your life. This is known as the empty nest syndrome, which affects close to 50% of parents. [1]

What is empty nest syndrome?

As children grow up, they leave their homes for a variety of reasons, including college, work, or marriage. Empty Nest Syndrome (ENS) is a set of complex feelings, mainly grief and loneliness, that you may experience as a parent when your children leave home for the first time. While you may feel sad and “empty” when the children leave, you may also be simultaneously proud of them and excited for their future.

You may be more likely to experience this syndrome if you have been the primary caregiver and were a stay-at-home parent. ENS is more prevalent in women due to cultural and gender norms and expectations. [2]

Why are you experiencing ENS? Because you spent close to two decades with your children being the central part of your household and life. Your life has revolved around their educational and extracurricular development, planning weekends and vacations with activities for their enrichment, and supporting them in becoming emotionally resilient individuals. When the time comes for the children to leave the home, it is only natural for you to feel like everything has become too still and quiet.

ENS is not a clinical condition. It is more of a natural yet challenging transitional period of your life. And to make this transition smooth, you must rediscover yourself beyond your role as a parent.

Symptoms of empty nest syndrome

Everyone who goes through ENS experiences it differently. However, there are some common emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms you may encounter as a parent whose child has recently left home.

  • You feel sadness and grief, almost as if you were mourning
  • You feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by other family members or people
  • You constantly feel anxious about your child’s wellbeing
  • You’ve lost interest in the things you enjoyed doing before and find everything worthless, i.e., you’re feeling depressed
  • You’re not able to care for your own physical and emotional needs, i.e., not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much, and not eating well or binge-eating your feelings
  • You have persistent headaches and stomach issues due to unmanaged stress
  • You’re too focused on the child and are excessively trying to communicate with them
  • You feel aimless because you’re clueless about how to adjust to the new family dynamic

Since you’ve been a parent for a long time, you may start questioning your role and purpose in life once your child leaves the home. It is not only normal but also important to question this as it can lead to discovering your lost and true self.

However, suppose these symptoms are too intense and are interfering with your daily functioning. In that case, it is best to seek professional help to rule out or treat other underlying serious mental health conditions.

How long does empty nest syndrome last?

How long empty nest syndrome lasts for you can depend on a number of factors ranging from your personality to the quality of your other relationships to your mental health history. Based on such factors, you may either experience ENS merely for a few weeks or months or, in some cases, for several years. Let’s take a look into the factors that can make or break this transition:

Factors that may make your transition more challenging:

What is Empty Nest Syndrome

  • If being a parent is a core part of your identity, you may struggle more to redefine your role and identity once the child leaves home.
  • The closer and more involved you’ve been in your child’s life as opposed to having a more independent relationship with them as they grow up.
  • Having an unstable marriage or a strained relationship with your spouse can make you more focused on your child and your role as a parent and intensify feelings of loss.
  • If you have a history of anxiety or depression, coping with ENS may be that much more challenging for you.

Factors that can make your transition easier:

  • If you’ve developed interests and a social network apart from your role as a parent, it can provide you with other things to focus on.
  • If you’ve experienced loss before and got through it successfully, you may be able to deal with this situation better.
  • If you have the support of friends and family, you may be more resilient in coping with ENS.

How to deal with empty nest syndrome

As a parent, it is normal to feel whatever you’re feeling when your children leave home for the first time. The key is to process these feelings instead of letting them consume you. Some strategies you can try to make this life transition easier on yourself are:

  • Acknowledge that you’re feeling sad or lonely and express it to process these feelings fully. Journaling or talking to fellow parents going through something similar can help.
  • Rediscover your old hobbies or explore new ones to feel happier and more fulfilled. [3]
  • Bring some structure by creating a new routine and breaking down your goals to open yourself up to a new direction and a sense of purpose.
  • Whether it’s with your spouse, other family members, friends, or community, you can focus on other important relationships to create a sense of belonging.
  • Seek the support of a mental health professional to help you adjust to this next stage of life and manage your emotions. Cognitive restructuring can significantly help deal with the symptoms of depression. [4]

Some common behaviors exhibited by parents to deal with this transition include either checking in obsessively with their kids or withdrawing from all communication so as not to be overbearing. Both of these behaviors can negatively impact your relationship and this transition. Hence, it is important to stay in touch with your children while maintaining boundaries and respecting their independence.

Conclusion

You may feel sad, lonely, and struck with grief during any major transition in life, including when your children move out. To combat ENS healthily, you must learn to divert your care and attention to yourself and view this life change as an opportunity to work on yourself. Doing so can allow you to move on to the next phase of your life on a positive note.

Get in touch with one of our mental health experts to help you make this transition from being a parent to finding your true self smoothly. At United We Care, we offer the most appropriate, clinically backed solutions for all your needs for well-being.

References:

[1] Badiani, Feryl & Desousa, Avinash. (2016). The Empty Nest Syndrome: Critical Clinical Considerations. Indian Journal of Mental Health(IJMH). 3. 135. 10.30877/IJMH.3.2.2016.135-142. Accessed: Nov. 14, 2023

[2] Jana L. Raup & Jane E. Myers, “The Empty Nest Syndrome: Myth or Reality”, Journal of Counseling and Development, 68(2) 180-183, The American Counseling Association, 1989. [Online]. Available: https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/J_Myers_Empty_1989.pdf. Accessed: Nov. 14, 2023

[3] Dianbing Chen, Xinxiao Yang & Steve Dale Aagard (2012) The Empty Nest Syndrome: Ways to Enhance Quality of Life, Educational Gerontology, 38:8, 520-529, DOI: 10.1080/03601277.2011.595285. Accessed: Nov. 14, 2023

[4] Oliver, R. (1977). The empty nest syndrome as a focus of depression: A cognitive treatment model, based on rational emotive therapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 14(1), 87–94. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0087497. Accessed: Nov. 14, 2023

 

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Author : United We Care

Founded in 2020, United We Care (UWC) is providing mental health and wellness services at a global level, UWC utilizes its team of dedicated and focused professionals with expertise in mental healthcare, to solve 2 essential missing components in the market, sustained user engagement and program efficacy/outcomes.

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