Your nest may be empty, but your life can still be full. There are ways to deal with empty nest syndrome.
Your kids may have left the family home for college, marriage, or a new job. You might find yourself with feelings of loss and sadness. You could be finding it hard to focus and work. You may be experiencing empty nest syndrome.
Not all parents and caregivers experience empty nest syndrome, but those who do often describe it as “bittersweet.” It combines the melancholy of suddenly living alone, with the intrigue of finally having time for yourself.
What is empty nest syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome refers to the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and loss of purpose that some parents and caregivers feel when their grown children move out of the family home.
Empty nest syndrome isn’t a medical or psychiatric health condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
However, research shows that empty nest syndrome can lead to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, or engaging in behaviors that can have a negative impact such as financial risk-taking or substance use disorders.
The symptoms aren’t always negative. Relief and excitement about a new life chapter can also be part of the empty nest experience.
And children sometimes return to the nest. When kids return to the family home for renewed support after a difficult launch into adulthood, they are described as “boomerang children.” In 2016, Pew Research Center reported that for the first time, living with parents is now the most common situation for people ages 18 to 34.
Can empty nest syndrome last for years?
Most parents adjust to their new roles as empty nesters within about 2 months. Some parents may experience symptoms for a longer period, even years, if they’re also faced with other challenges, such as financial or health situations.
What are 3 key characteristics of empty nesters?
- Grief. Empty nesters can feel a deep sadness and may even begin to experience the five stages of grief.
- Emptiness. You may feel adrift like a boat without a rudder. Your life can suddenly feel empty.
- Fear and worry. You might be uncertain and afraid of your life ahead. You may be preoccupied with your child’s well-being, too.
What age group is empty nest syndrome associated with?
Parents and caregivers in the United States are usually between 40 and 60 years old when they begin empty nesting. Life events and stages, such as second marriages, late childbearing, or being grandparent caregivers, can affect when the syndrome starts.
Empty nest syndrome age may also be different in cultures and countries with varying child care arrangements.
Not everyone experiences empty nest syndrome the same way. Your partner, or others you know, may seem fine while you’re having a difficult time.
You may also experience other symptoms that at first you might identify as empty nest syndrome.
You may not be able to focus like you used to. For example, you might start to write a work report and your mind starts to wander about how your young adults are doing.
You may have a partner, friends, and co-workers, but you still feel lonely. You might’ve just called your child this morning, but tears well up as you pass by their old room.
You snap at your mate over something that’s not important. It’s not about them. It’s about you. You may be frustrated that you feel as if you can’t seem to control anything.
You don’t exactly feel bad, but something feels off. You have less energy and less motivation to do the things you used to do. This is called languishing, and it’s sometimes a symptom of empty nest syndrome.
Re-examining roles and relationship
You and your partner no longer need to parent daily. Questions naturally arise.
So what do you talk about? Do you really have anything in common anymore? You likely do. This can lead to an opportunity to redefine your relationship.
It can be a chance to rediscover yourself apart your kids. You can explore interests and connect with people — activities you may not have been able to do as much or at all while you were rearing your children.
How to cope with empty nest syndrome
Your adult children may have flown the nest, and you feel the need to discover who you are apart from them. There are a variety of coping methods you might consider to help deal with the symptoms of empty nest syndrome.
- Laughing more. Finding ways to laugh with others, such as telling stories or watching a funny movie together, can be helpful. Laughter can help lift your spirits, and it has health benefits, too.
- Discovering your values. Speaking your values aloud or writing them down in a journal can be helpful in re-examining what matters to you in life. It also helps find new outlets that align with your core values.
- Getting to know your (now adult) kids.Finding new ways to communicate with your kids can be mutually beneficial. Asking them what works can be a good starting point. Texting? Phone calls? That allows them to let you know.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise can perk up your spirits.
Researchshows it may improve your life satisfaction and your ability to perform daily activities as you age.
- Investing in yourself. Imagining yourself as a stock portfolio can be helpful in understanding your value. How would you invest in yourself? Start a new business or hobby? Go on a long-delayed vacation? Spend time with family and friends? Having more time and energy can allow you to invest more in your overall well-being.
- Practicing self-care. Taking care of yourself is important. This can be the ideal time to do just that. You can eat well. Enjoy yourself. Get massages. Whatever it takes to restore your mind, body, and soul, being an empty nester can provide the time.
Empty nest depression
If it’s more than just feeling blue now and then — if you feel the same symptoms every day, most of the day for 2 weeks — it might be depression.
Learning and watching for the symptoms in yourself or your partner can help in identifying the condition.
Feeling mildly anxious or depressed during the first few weeks of empty nesting can be expected. If your sadness extends longer than that or begins to affect your daily functioning, you might consider getting help from a mental health professional.
Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones, a family physician at the University of Utah, warns that depression can be a danger during the empty nest period because it can creep up on people. They may not expect it. He suggests that adult children, extended family, and the empty nesters themselves watch symptoms closely and seek help, if needed.
When your children leave home, your life may seem suddenly void. You may feel sad, worried, or restless. You might experience new marital conflict. This may be empty nest syndrome, and the good news is it’s usually short-lived.
Finding new interests and new ways of communicating with your adult children can help you adjust to your new situation.
Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself looking forward to the new chapter of your life. If the symptoms linger, therapy is available.