Empty Nest Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Empty Nest Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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As a parent, you spend decades caring for children, so experiencing an empty nest can be hard to handle. The adjustment can be a struggle, and it’s sometimes hard to figure out who you are as an individual. If you know this time of your life is coming, learning about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options can help you navigate it.

Empty nest syndrome is when you feel an overwhelming sadness and a sense of loss when your children leave home. It can lead to being unable or unwilling to let your children live autonomously. Plus, it can cause problems in your marriage or relationship.

Luckily, since many parents have been through this, there is plenty of information available. Recognizing and acknowledging the syndrome is essential because then the healing process can begin. The quietness and sense of missing something will be hard to adjust to, but there is a way to do it.

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As you implement strategies for dealing with an empty nest, it will help you rediscover yourself. You will find a new normal, and you can find new opportunities or activities to help you refocus. The more knowledge you have, the better your situation will turn out.

What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is a condition that refers to the grief parents might experience when their children move out. This syndrome is usually more common in women because they are the primary caregiver of the kids. It isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but it is a common condition that involves feelings of sadness and loss.

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One of the reasons empty nest is such an issue is because many people don’t recognize it as grief. Grief is often associated with death rather than a normal and healthy event such as children moving out. Parents that have been through it know that the misery of children moving out is all too real.

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What Are the Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome?

This syndrome is associated with quite a few symptoms, including:

  • a loss of purpose and meaning
  • feeling frustrated over lack of control
  • frequent or sudden emotional distress
  • marital stress
  • constant anxiety about your children
  • a feeling of grief and loss
  • depression
  • loneliness

What Causes Empty Nest Syndrome?

While the apparent cause is your children moving out, there are other underlying causing, including:

  • Loss of Parenthood: While mothers are more susceptible to this syndrome, it can affect either parent. After nearly 20 years of raising your children, it might feel like your most essential life role is complete. It can lead to feelings of worthlessness, and you’ll likely feel unsure of the new meaning of your life.
  • Considering the Change Stressful: If you go into the situation thinking that it is stressful, you’re more likely to develop this syndrome. When you have a negative mindset from the start, it can be hard to get past it. Instead, think of it as a refreshing, new challenge.
  • Having a Negative Personal Experience: Parents that had a negative experience when they moved out of their parents’ home are more likely to suffer from an empty nest. The feelings they encountered in their past might resurface when their kids move out.
  • An Unstable Marriage: If your marriage is unstable or unhappy, you are more likely to suffer. You might realize that your children were your greatest joy, and now you don’t have them in the home. Plus, those in an unstable marriage might not have support from their spouse during this life change.
  • Worrying That Your Child Isn’t Ready: As a parent, you likely know your child better than anyone else does, including their faults. If you think they aren’t ready to take on adult responsibilities, you will experience more grief when they leave.
  • Feeling Like There is a Void in Your Life: Your days were probably filled with daily routine as you cared for your children. Now that they are gone, you might not know what to do with your time, leaving you feeling depressed.
  • Lack of Support: If you don’t have someone to lean on during this change, you are more likely to suffer from this syndrome. Lack of sympathy can make you feel even lonelier.

How Long Does Empty Nest Syndrome Last?

The duration varies for each person. One study shows that 25% of empty nesters overcome it in less than a month. Other parents suffer for up to two years. However, on average, most empty nesters recover from their negative feelings in about three and a half months.

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How Is Empty Nest Syndrome Treated?

If you suffer from this condition, there are quite a few ways to treat it, including:

  • Reconnect With Your Partner: It is essential to reconnect with your spouse or partner after the children leave home. Try to remember how much you enjoyed each other’s time before having children. While you have both likely changed quite a bit since then, you will still be able to find ways to connect.
  • Reconnect With Yourself: As a parent, most of your thoughts and activities revolve around your children, leaving you with little time for yourself. Once your children have moved out, you will have all of that again, so take advantage and focus on reconnecting with yourself. Think about what you like, who you want to spend time with, and what you want the rest of your life to look like.
  •  Stay Busy And Find New Hobbies: It is important to stay busy and do things that make you happy. This might mean meeting up with friends regularly, exercising, or finding new hobbies. You can join clubs, sign up for a yoga or art class, or spend time learning a new skill.
  •  Find A Support System: You can’t go through this time in your life alone. Go to your friends and family members about your emotions and fears. They will be able to give you advice, reassurance, and a comforting shoulder to lean on.
  • Stay Positive: Remind yourself that this is what you worked for all these years. You worked to raise capable, strong, and successful children who are now ready to put your lessons to the test. This independence is the ultimate proof that you have succeeded in giving your children exactly what they needed to thrive.
  •  Identify Your New Role: You aren’t the same person you were before. You changed once you had children, and now you are changing again. While some of your identity will remain the same, you still have much to figure out.
  • Find New Ways To Challenge Yourself And Set New Goals: Push yourself to new limits after your children move out. You now have the time to dedicate to yourself, so see exactly what you are capable of. Set goals for yourself, starting with things you’ve always dreamed of doing.
  •  Adjust To Giving Your Child Space: You must give your child space, meaning you shouldn’t call multiple times a day to check-in. Wait for them to contact you sometimes, and avoid invading their privacy. You have to give them room to learn and grow, and it’ll be better for both of you if you do this.
  •  Plan Something Exciting: You can’t sulk around your house, dreading the silence and space. Instead, plan trips for yourself and your partner or a friend. Even if you don’t go far, you will enjoy the time spent planning, exploring, and relaxing in a new location.
  • Create A New Routine: If your weekends were once filled with events, tournaments, or other child-related activities, you have to develop a new routine. Fill your weekends with things you enjoy, such as sitting in a bookstore or spending time with friends. Once you develop this new routine, it’ll be easier to deal with your empty nest.
  • See a Professional: If you can’t seem to overcome the negative feelings associated with this condition, consider seeing a professional. They can help you overcome your emotions and live a fulfilling life once again.

Can Empty Nest Syndrome Be Prevented?

You can’t entirely prevent it, but you can do something to increase your chance of avoiding it. You can write a list of things you wanted to do but couldn’t because of your role as a parent. With that list, you can find excitement in this significant life change as it gives you something to look forward to.

Another idea is to open a line of communication with your child to promote a more robust relationship from the beginning. Ask your child about their feelings and discuss any concerns they have. You might feel better if you make a plan for keeping in touch, too.

If you were a full-time parent, consider finding a job that brings you joy. Lining up the job before your last child moves out will give you a new sense of purpose in life. With a goal, you are less likely to develop this syndrome.

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You can also decrease your chance of developing this condition by reaching out to old friends or making new ones. When you start spending time with like-minded people, it will help you recover from this life change. Consider joining hobby groups or attending events that interest you so that you can meet new people.

Decreasing your risk of this condition also requires you to acknowledge your grief and allow yourself to release the feelings. Discuss your feelings, thoughts, and plans with someone you trust and feel supported by. You can also see a professional help you cope before things get too bad.

empty nest syndrome
Final Thoughts on Empty Nest Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

After so many years of caring for children, it can be difficult for parents to deal with an empty nest. Luckily, it is easier than you may imagine, and you will truly begin to enjoy your new lifestyle. Begin by reconnecting with your spouse and yourself and then moving forward to filling your life with meaningful activities.

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You now have the time and energy to spend on old hobbies or new activities. Plus, you will have the chance to do all the things you once dreamed of.

Remember that your children leaving home shows that they are independent and capable adults. This is what you worked so hard to teach them for all of these years. Embrace this new time in your life, and you will be able to cope with an empty nest.

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Sarah Barkley is a lifestyle blogger and freelance writer with a Bachelor's Degree in Literature from Baker College. She is experienced in all things related to parenting, marriage, and life as a millennial parent, but loves to learn new things. She enjoys the research that goes into a strong article, and no topic is off-limits to Sarah. When she isn't writing, she is immersed in a book or watching Gilmore Girls. Sarah loves reading classic novels but also enjoys a good thriller.

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