How to recover from empty nest syndrome

How to recover from empty nest syndrome

Most people never think about it or realize it, but there are some stark similarities between the transition that parents make when their children leave home and when people leave the workplace for the last time.

Empty nest syndrome is defined as a transition period in which some parents experience feelings of loss, sadness, and, or grief after children grow up and head off to college, the military, or get married. It often occurs despite the fact that many parents encourage their children to become independent adults.

Ironically, new retirees can fall into an eerily similar situation. They experience a sense of loss of purpose, feelings of worry, stress, and anxiety in the process of leaving work, despite planning for years to do so.

How will you react to your kids leaving home and/or leaving work? (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Empty nest syndrome is most often attributed to stay-at-home mothers or those with more traditional views of family life because they lack an immediate outlet for their time once the children are gone and they have more time to fixate on their loss, although some mothers with a career also feel the impact of the loss of active parenting. But dads are impacted too, despite the fact that it doesn’t get talked about as much.

When it comes to retirement, career oriented men tend to struggle more with the transition from work life to home life because so much of their identity is tied to their position, company title, and ability to get results in the workplace. However, times have changed, and women aren’t immune to the struggle associated with the transition into retirement either, although they may approach it differently than men.

In some cases, an individual or couple may end up dealing with both empty nest syndrome and retirement at around the same time. Furthermore, some couples may have one partner grieving the loss of a child while the other grieves the loss of work.

One of the issues at hand is that both empty nest syndrome and retirement often have a deep-seated stereotype that pervades the way people perceive the results associated with them. Whether it’s launching your children into the real world or walking off into the sunset of retirement, they are supposed to be good things… life-long achievements that you’re supposed to be proud of and even boastful about.

But it’s not that easy because of the tug of war, or duality of emotions that may take place. Yes, you’re excited to have your kids move forward in life and experience new things, but you may also be experiencing emotions like grief, loneliness, and anxiety. Similarly, retirees are excited to skip those boring staff meetings or no longer perform certain tasks, but they can also miss some of the office camaraderie, a set schedule, and the ability to set and achieve goals.

In either case, the grief that a parent or new retiree can go through sometimes goes unrecognized or can be referred to as “disenfranchised grief.” This is a type of grief where the loss they are struggling with isn’t honored in the same way that more traditional grieving situations are. For example, the loss of a loved one or divorce. (See Grief In Retirement)

The reality is that any major life change requires some adjustment, and it’s perfectly normal to miss a child or work. Thankfully, many of the same things that can help parents deal with an empty nest can also be applied to retirement.

More and more colleges are offering informational classes and programs to help parents make the adjustment, and support groups are popping up to help parents adjust to the change as well. Additionally, an entire industry of Retirement Transition Coaching has emerged with experts, workshops, and one-on-one sessions to help people cope. (Search: Retirement Coaches Association)

Dr. Dorian Mintzer, a noted therapist and retirement coach works with both struggling parents and retirees. She advises, “Think about the loss of active parenting and retirement as transitions that have an ending, a period of “unknowns” and new beginnings. It’s helpful to acknowledge the ending and changes—in identity and community, while also embracing the opportunity for new beginnings.”

She adds, “Take time to explore new possibilities such as returning to existing hobbies or developing new ones, develop new connections with people with similar interests, and perhaps pursue new leisure activities, volunteer work or an encore career.”

Overall, the struggle that both parents and retirees can face is very real and fortunately there are things that can help both combat some of the symptoms they may experience during this time including:

  • Schedule communication with your child or former co-workers
  • Follow a passion
  • Build new friendships or revive old ones
  • Take up a new hobby or interest
  • Go back to school or university
  • Embark on an encore career or start a business
  • Volunteer or seek out ways to help with your favorite charity

In any event, consider this a time of renewal and rejuvenation, giving thanks to how you got here and what’s still to come.

Home » Middle Aged Women and the Empty Nest Syndrome

How to recover from empty nest syndrome

What is it about middle-aged women and the empty nest syndrome that send psychologists scampering for theories and creating ‘how-to’ manuals for their despairing clients? One undeniable fact is it’s as traumatic as losing a loved one to illness. Psychologists say it can take anywhere from 18 months to two years before middle-aged women who exhibit symptoms of empty nest syndrome fully recover from their sadness at seeing their children leave home.

The funny thing is while we have parents who suffer from empty nest syndrome, we have those who are suddenly burdened by boomerang kids. Makes you wonder which is the lesser evil.

Middle-Aged Women and the Empty Nest Syndrome

One question that arises about middle-aged women and the empty nest syndrome is: is it really just the empty nest syndrome that is involved when sons and daughters leave their parents home to lead their own lives? Or does it occur in tandem with other life events?

Counselors say that empty nest syndrome usually occurs at around the same time as menopause, retirement, or the illness or death of a spouse. It also affects more women than men, since mothers provide the primary care to children. When they realize that their most important role that of nurturing and raising children is over, a feeling of panic and inadequacy grips them. They question the purpose of their human existence and wonder what there is left to do, now that the kids are gone?

Planning Ahead

While the kids are still staying at home, mothers should do some forward planning so that the impact of departing children is not as crippling or serious. Some steps you can take:

  • read all you can about empty nest syndrome ask your psychologist at work or a professional what you can do to diminish the emotional pain
  • see if there are any support groups in your community where you can exchange ideas and experiences
  • take up a hobby that you feel passionate about and which you had to postpone because you were busy with the kids
  • go back to school and take courses that interest you or volunteer at a teenage shelter or a center for single mothers and offer comfort
  • start a blog on the Internet about empty nest syndrome and see what other mothers have to say
  • seek the support of your husband, family and friends and share with them your feelings
  • make plans to be with your children as often as you can and when their schedules will permit
  • perhaps go back to work part time.

Middle-Aged Women and the Empty Nest Syndrome | Ways of Coping

To lessen the impact of empty nest syndrome, here are some strategies you can adopt:

  • remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad and depressed. Keep your head up and be optimistic about the future. Spoil yourself when the occasion calls for it. Treat the departure of your children as a reason to celebrate your new found freedom
  • execute changes in the house to keep your mind off the empty spaces. Tend the garden, redecorate your daughter’s or son’s room and convert it into a study, a yoga area, a room for meditation, an entertainment section
  • communicate often with your spouse. Assure him you’re ‘not going crazy’ but that you’re going through a difficult period which will pass
  • spend more time with your friends and colleagues at work. Perhaps they too are feeling the same feelings
  • don’t push your recovery period. Give yourself enough time to grieve, acknowledge your grief, and don’t do anything that seems unnatural and awkward, especially during the first few weeks of your children leaving
  • reach out and help someone
  • postpone any major decisions like’ selling the house‘ until you’ve had time to think things more clearly
  • continue your health routine. Don’t stop exercising and begin a ritual of junk food just because you’re feeling down in the dumps. Empty nest syndrome in fact is the time to double up on your fitness and health goals.

Nothing Serious But

Middle-aged women and empty nest syndrome seem to go hand in hand because the feeling is experienced by women for the most part. When ‘mom’ is suddenly Miss Independent, there’s a strangeness about it. It’s especially difficult when those feelings of emptiness are accompanied by menopausal episodes.

Happily, empty nest syndrome does not trigger too much worrying on the part of physicians so it’s a subject that’s not given extensive coverage in medical books. It isn’t a preoccupation because empty nest syndrome is at best a natural and logical development in a woman’s life who devoted most of her life to raising children.

However, when a woman cries excessively and has lost interest in things that used to interest her and her depression has not lifted, then there is cause for concern. This is when it becomes necessary to see a psychologist and submit to behavior therapy. Counseling may help middle-aged women understand their empty nest syndrome and the professional counselor may be able to detect if it’s perhaps not menopause that is causing the overwhelming sadness.

The idea is’ not‘ to wait until symptoms get worse, because help is readily available.

Children Should Do Their Share

Husbands who witness changes in their wives behavioral and thinking patterns when children leave home can take the initiative to dialogue with the children. He can ask them to be more understanding if it happens that their mother is calling them too often. Explain to them that this is a logical result of no longer having anyone to care for. Children must cooperate and do their best to stay in touch with their mother reasonably. The emphasis here is on ‘reasonably.’ They are not expected to call every day. In fact some counselors recommend communication take place twice a week during the first few months, but no more than that.

Children can also e-mail their parents regularly if they’re away at university just to assure their parents that they’re doing fine and managing well.

Hopefully, in time mothers will find their own way, take up activities that will keep their minds busy again, and make plans for the future. Being middle aged and experiencing empty nest syndrome does not mean the end of one’s life. Why, there’s half a lifetime left, maybe even more! It does pay to look after one’s health (with or without children).

Empty nest syndrome must be viewed as a time for a brand new freedom. When the children fade from the limelight, it’s about the best time that mothers hug the limelight for themselves and only for themselves!

Filling the psychological void when your last child leaves home

Posted August 14, 2013

Every August, high school graduates leave for college and start a new and exciting chapter in their lives. But they are not the only ones facing a new beginning. Parents left with an empty nest must also start a new chapter in their lives. Managing this transition correctly will determine if it is one characterized by excitement for them too, or one filled with a prevailing feeling of loss.

Our identities are defined by the various roles we play in life. The larger and more meaningful a role is, the more significant aspect of our identity it becomes. Arguably, there are few, if any roles more important, more time-consuming, or more meaningful than parenting. Therefore, being a parent is a large part of our identities. It defines who we are and what we do. So when our last child leaves home, it isn’t just the nest that can feel empty. Indeed, parents often struggle with a profound sense of loss, not just because they miss their child, but because their very identities have been significantly impacted.

Why We Need to Redefine Ourselves

Empty nest is not the only loss that involves challenges to our sense of identity. Losing our health, getting divorced, and even retiring are all examples of losses that create psychological injuries of a similar nature, as they each involve losing a hugely important role in our lives. In order to ‘treat’ these wounds we must first come to terms with how our identities were impacted by the loss and the various ways our lives were changed by them.

Psychologically speaking, we cannot just adjust to such losses by getting used to them. Rather, it is always essential to replace meaningful aspects of our lives in one way or the other when we lose them, even if the loss itself is normative—such as when dealing with an empty nest. We therefore need to identify possible new roles and interests to explore and we must consider existing ones we might be able to expand.

Strategies for Overcoming Empty Nest Syndrome

Ideally, we should not wait until our child leaves home to begin our own adjustment process, as the sooner we take action to address our upcoming needs, the better off we will be emotionally. Indeed, Dr. Susan Newman, a fellow blogger on this site, advocates we start such preparation when our children are still young (read more here), as doing so gradually over the years will make the departure easier both for them and for us.

However, for those who have not planned ahead and need to ‘cram’, here are some basic strategies to consider:

1. Make a list of the roles you have in life. Include roles that require a regular investment of time and energy such as Wife or Husband, Sister or Brother, Daughter or Son, Friend, Neighbor (if you belong to any building, neighborhood, or community associations or boards), Sports Team Member, Pet Owner, your Profession, Business Owner or Employee, and any other roles you can think of.

2. Go through your list and indicate which of those roles you might be able to expand. For example, if you have a spouse or partner, you could reinvest in the relationship, find new mutual interests, and rekindle your romance. If you do not have a partner, you can consider reentering the dating world. You could also refocus on your career or become more active in any community involvements you have.

3. Create a list of new interests you would like to explore. Look for meet-ups in your area (meetup.com) as a place to connect with others who share similar interest, or start a meet-up yourself. If you have trouble brainstorming, don’t worry. Years of parenting can make one feel a little ‘rusty’ as far as extracurricular activities go. Try thinking back to interests you had before you had children and consider exploring those to start.

4. It is best to get involved before your child leaves home but if it is too late to do so, try to get things on your calendar as soon as you can. Be aware that it’s natural to experience feelings of loss so don’t expect to feel ‘excited’ per se at first. However, getting involved in new activities and interests will help accelerate your emotional adjustment and it will also mitigate some of the emptiness you feel, both within your home and within yourself.

by Gretchen Raley on Thursday, June 02, 2016 at 9:54 AM

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Sending your child off into the world is a natural part of life but it can be overwhelming. Here are three ways to cope with an empty nest.

For many parents, May feels like a dark, spinning vortex. They are hanging on for dear life, trying to keep up with the pace of graduation parties and college preparations, reminding their teens that grades do still matter, and no, they may not go to Jamaica with their friends for two weeks without an adult.

What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

If you have a graduating senior in your household, working through the complex emotions that accompany your child coming of age and leaving home can be overwhelming. These emotions are a part of a phenomenon called “Empty Nest Syndrome.”

Research suggests that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome may experience a profound sense of loss and may even be vulnerable to depression, identity crises and marital conflicts.

In the midst of trying to parent, you might find yourself at odds with your son or daughter in new ways. Understanding the fears and emotions that accompany this major change in your family dynamic may help. Here are three things that you can do now that will help you and your child transition into this new phase of life.

1. Entrust Your Child’s Future to God

Every parent wants to do a good job raising their children, so it’s natural if you find yourself evaluating how your teen has turned out. You want to make sure your child is prepared for the real world and will make good decisions—and rightly so.

However, involvement in your teen’s life can quickly turn into scrutiny, so be aware of your motives. Are you asking questions out of fear, or because you are truly interested? Are you placing your own identity in your child being “OK”? Entrusting your child’s future to God will not only free you from being enslaved to the “what-ifs”; it will help your relationship with your teen as well.

Parents may also experience regret when they reflect on the past. The years can pass by quickly when kids are growing up, and sometimes parents miss it all together. Perhaps you didn’t always pay full attention to your child’s needs and desires.

The sting of remorse can be painful, but Christ can meet you in it. Confess your failures to Him, and accept His grace. Then, work on repairing your relationship with your child. You might be surprised at how far a simple “I’m sorry” or “I love you” can go.

2. Find New Ways to Connect with Your Child

Who am I? Who do I want to be? What should I do with my life?

Parents are very familiar with these questions coming from their teenager, but are often surprised when they find themselves asking the same ones.

Watching your child transition to adulthood produces an identity crisis of sorts for many parents. It can be more unsettling than losing a job, or moving to another state. It’s a total life adjustment.

Driving your daughter to sports practice and youth group, waiting up when she’s out late, drying her tears when her prom date backed out . you’ve been there for it all. Without the all-consuming tasks of day-to-day parenting, you might become anxious about filling that void. Creating more rules can be a last-ditch effort of sorts to control what feels uncontrollable with Empty Nest Syndrome.

Unfortunately, the timing of your teen’s growing independence and your desire to come closer may ignite anger and conflict. While keeping household and behavioral expectations in check is important, emphasizing your authority won’t bring you closer.

Rather, think of new ways to connect. Shop for college dorm gear together, or plan a day when your teen can pick what you do. Just because your teen is leaving home doesn’t mean she doesn’t need you anymore . it’s quite the opposite. Your relationship will just look differently than it did in high school.

3. Grieve, but Don’t Forget the Joyful Moments Too

Having a child fly the coop is a grieving process. This process is normal with Empty Nest Syndrome.

Even if your child is not moving out, it’s still a loss: a change in your relationship with your child, your role in their life and in your family dynamic as you’ve known it for the last 18 years. A certain amount of sadness comes with that.

In addition, many parents don’t want to admit that they are getting older, and so are their kids. They want to stop time and preserve the moments they cherish of their teen as a young child. While your child will always be your “baby” in some ways, he isn’t 8 anymore. He is his own person, making his own choices for his life.

Your teen is about to enter a wonderful phase of life, full of discoveries and adventures. While there will also be difficult learning experiences, these are necessary to become an independent, successful adult. It can be a beautiful process to see a young adult learn to rest in the gospel of grace, develop an identity rooted in Christ and make a true difference in the world.

The coming months may be difficult, but they can be filled with joy if you let them. Make the most of the time you have left with things as they are, and look with hope to the new experiences that await your family.

How to Pray on Your Child’s Behalf

As you navigate this life change, consider using Paul’s words to pray to the Lord on your child’s behalf:

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.

When much of your life has been defined as a parent, it’s hard to adjust to life without kids in the home. Parents who have a particularly difficult transition experience what’s known as “empty nest syndrome.”

Empty nest syndrome refers to the feelings of sadness and loss some parents experience when the last child leaves the family home. Although it isn’t an official clinical diagnosis, the problem is still very real.  

Parents with empty nest syndrome experience a deep void in their lives. They often feel lost. They may also struggle to allow their adult children to have autonomy. Some couples experience higher levels of conflict when one or both partners have empty nest syndrome. This can compound feelings of loneliness and distress.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to address empty nest syndrome. If you’re struggling to deal with your children moving out of the home, these five strategies can help.

Identify Your Roles

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Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

You’ve been a lot of things in your life—daughter or son, friend, employee, maybe aunt or uncle—but none may feel as important as the role of parent. Rest assured that you can still carry that label proudly; it just might not be at the forefront anymore.

Identify new roles you want to fill during this empty-nest phase of your life. Do you want to be a volunteer? A generous neighbor? An involved community member?

Now that you have more time on your hands, you have the opportunity to explore other activities that can give you meaning and purpose. Clarifying the roles you’d like to fill now that you’re an empty nester can ensure you feel valuable.

Reconnect With Your Partner

You might be totally focused on how your life is going to change after your child leaves, and in your mind, that might not be for the better. Remember those years before you had kids, though, when it was just the two of you? It’s time to make more memories as a twosome.

Travel without worrying about who’s going to stay with the kids. Plan date nights without thinking about a babysitter and cook whatever meals you want without considering if a picky eater is going to complain about it.

If many of your activities centered around going to kids’ sporting events and school plays, it may take some effort to figure out what other activities you can enjoy together. But the extra planning will pay off.

Reconnect With Yourself

Did you have any hobbies that you gave up as parenting took over your life? An empty nest means that you have time to get back in touch with that side of you. With your kids’ stuff gone, there is now more space in your home to store the supplies you need to immerse yourself activities you love.

Perhaps you’d like to return to a hobby that you pushed aside when you became a parent. Or maybe there’s something you always wanted to try but you never had time. If you aren’t sure what you’d like to do, pick something and give it a try by taking a class or testing out a short-term project. If you find out it’s not for you, try something else. This is a great time to explore your interests.

Find New Challenges

Ease the sense of loss that you might feel about your child growing up by finding a new personal or professional challenge to tackle. Whether you’ve dreamed of running a road race or you always wanted to redesign a room in your home, now might be the best time to dive in.

You might even take on something even bigger, such as volunteering with a charity, which can help you find a place to direct your focus. However, avoid making any life-altering decisions in the first six months or so after your child moves out. Don’t sell your house or leave your job unless you’d had that planned far in advance.

The emotional roller coaster associated with empty nest syndrome can cloud your judgment. Making a big change while when you’re feeling emotional might prevent you from making your best decision.

Resist the Urge to Check In Too Much

If you obsessively monitor your child’s social media accounts, call every morning, and spend every minute worrying about how your child is doing in college or in their new place, you won’t be able to move on with your life. Coping with empty nest syndrome means letting go and letting your child grow into an independent adult.

Of course, you should certainly check in on your child’s well-being. But give your child some privacy—and the space to make a few mistakes. It’s healthier for both of you.

A Word From Verywell

No matter what you do to shift your focus from your empty nest, it won’t change initial feelings of sadness. You need to grieve what you’ve lost. One phase of your life is over. Your children are no longer living at home and time has likely passed by faster than you ever imagined.

Coming to terms with this new phase in your life can be tough. But most parents find they’re able to adjust to their new roles and they develop a new sense of normal.   If you find that empty nest syndrome is getting worse, instead of better, or it doesn’t resolve within a couple of months, talk to a mental health professional. Your feelings of loneliness or emptiness may require treatment.

How to recover from empty nest syndrome

Empty nest syndrome occurs when parents feel sad, depressed, and without purpose after children leave the home. This important life transition may feel like a major loss and trigger symptoms of grief. Getting through a life change can present challenges, and it can even trigger major depression. Parents who can’t seem to overcome the sadness of an empty nest and who experience significant impairment because of it, should seek help and professional treatment for depression.

Quick Links

  • What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
  • Important Signs of Real Depression
  • Get Treatment for Depression
  • How Depression Is Treated
  • Focus on the Positives of an Empty Nest

Facing an empty nest can be bittersweet. Your children have achieved the independence you worked to instill in them, but now you have lost that purpose. Your home is empty, and you may have no one to care for any longer.

This can trigger some pretty negative feelings in parents, even depression. If your moods are consistently low during this time, and if you can’t seem to shake feeling sad even weeks after your child has left, you may have developed major depression. Treatment is effective and can help you regain your life, so reach out and get the professional support you need.

What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is not a diagnosable condition, but it is a real situation that many parents face. The overwhelming feelings that some parents—mostly mothers—experience when their children leave home are sadness and loss. It is a little bit like grief, feeling this loss of the children that were such a huge focus of your life and purpose. Letting go is difficult and painful, and for some parents this difficult time can lead to actual depression.

Important Signs of Real Depression

Feeling a little blue, or even moderately depressed over having your children fly the nest is normal. It’s a transition to a different lifestyle, and it is only natural that you may feel sad, without purpose, or as if you are grieving a loss. These feelings should lessen and you should feel better within a few weeks.

They may not lessen, though, and may even get worse. This type of sadness associated with an empty nest can also turn into a serious case of major depressive disorder. Know the signs that are used to diagnose major depression. If you are experiencing any of these regularly, most days and for a couple of weeks or more, it’s important to reach out for a diagnosis and treatment:

  • A depressed mood, which can include feeling sad, hopeless, guilty, ashamed, and generally down
  • Loss of interest in normal, previously enjoyable activities
  • Changes in appetite and weight, either eating more and gaining weight or eating less and losing weight
  • Insomnia or sleeping more than normal
  • Agitation or slowed down movements
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or focusing on and completing tasks
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicidal behaviors

While feeling down about an empty nest is normal, becoming depressed is not. It is not a typical response to this life change. Treatment can help you feel better and overcome this very real mental illness.

Get Treatment for Depression

If you are struggling with an empty home, you can benefit from treatment. Whether or not you are diagnosed officially with depression, professional support can help. Depression is a treatable condition through the use of medication and therapy, as well as healthy lifestyle changes.

Start with your trusted doctor if you are not sure how to find help for empty nest depression. He or she can guide you to find a good mental healthcare provider. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the impact it has on your functioning, you may benefit from regular therapy sessions or need more intensive care in a residential setting.

The benefits of residential, or inpatient, treatment include being able to focus completely on you and your treatment and wellness without distractions. You devoted years of your life to your children, and now it is important to focus on your own needs and mental health. A stay in a residential facility can help you learn how to manage depression, how to live a great life in an empty nest, and can invigorate your joy in living for yourself.

Call for a Free Confidential Assessment.

How Depression Is Treated

If you seek professional treatment for depression, you can expect to benefit from both medical care and therapy. Depression symptoms can be effectively managed with antidepressant drugs, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It is important to know, however, that these drugs take weeks to begin working. This is another good reason to seek treatment in a residential facility. It will give you the time and safe environment in which to find the best antidepressant for you.

In addition to medical care, depression is treated with therapy. Behavioral therapies can be particularly useful in giving you practical strategies for changing negative thoughts, behaviors, and moods that hold you back from enjoying an empty-nest life. Therapists can help you adjust to this big life change, improve relationships, learn healthy ways to cope with sadness and stress, and set and achieve goals.

A therapist will also help you make positive lifestyle changes that support depression management. These include finding new, enjoyable activities and hobbies, learning to recognize and respond better to triggers, avoiding alcohol, and taking care of your physical health.

Focus on the Positives of an Empty Nest

Research on empty nesters shows that many adults with grown children focus on the positive changes this transition brings. They are experiencing the benefits of an empty nest, in spite of missing their children. If you are struggling with loss at this time, it could help to focus on the positive changes this can bring.

For instance, many parents report that they have better relationships with their children after they leave home. Empty nesters are also focusing more on developing other relationships: with their partners, with their friends, and with family members like siblings. They also feel a greater sense of freedom and find they now have the time to pursue interests and hobbies that bring them pleasure.

Along with treatment if you need it, try to focus on the positive things this life change can bring. Find hobbies to fill your time, get part-time work, and spend more time with your partner and with friends. It can also help to begin nurturing a new relationship with your grown children. Spend time with them like you would with friends, meeting for coffee or going to the movies together.

Having an empty nest can be a contradiction: full of new opportunities and also sad and a big loss. If you have been focusing too much on the latter and are struggling to get over these negative feelings and moods, it may be time to seek treatment for depression. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust for support and to then get professional care and treatment.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.

How to recover from empty nest syndrome

Empty nest syndrome occurs when parents feel sad, depressed, and without purpose after children leave the home. This important life transition may feel like a major loss and trigger symptoms of grief. Getting through a life change can present challenges, and it can even trigger major depression. Parents who can’t seem to overcome the sadness of an empty nest and who experience significant impairment because of it, should seek help and professional treatment for depression.

Quick Links

  • What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
  • Important Signs of Real Depression
  • Get Treatment for Depression
  • How Depression Is Treated
  • Focus on the Positives of an Empty Nest

Facing an empty nest can be bittersweet. Your children have achieved the independence you worked to instill in them, but now you have lost that purpose. Your home is empty, and you may have no one to care for any longer.

This can trigger some pretty negative feelings in parents, even depression. If your moods are consistently low during this time, and if you can’t seem to shake feeling sad even weeks after your child has left, you may have developed major depression. Treatment is effective and can help you regain your life, so reach out and get the professional support you need.

What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is not a diagnosable condition, but it is a real situation that many parents face. The overwhelming feelings that some parents—mostly mothers—experience when their children leave home are sadness and loss. It is a little bit like grief, feeling this loss of the children that were such a huge focus of your life and purpose. Letting go is difficult and painful, and for some parents this difficult time can lead to actual depression.

Important Signs of Real Depression

Feeling a little blue, or even moderately depressed over having your children fly the nest is normal. It’s a transition to a different lifestyle, and it is only natural that you may feel sad, without purpose, or as if you are grieving a loss. These feelings should lessen and you should feel better within a few weeks.

They may not lessen, though, and may even get worse. This type of sadness associated with an empty nest can also turn into a serious case of major depressive disorder. Know the signs that are used to diagnose major depression. If you are experiencing any of these regularly, most days and for a couple of weeks or more, it’s important to reach out for a diagnosis and treatment:

  • A depressed mood, which can include feeling sad, hopeless, guilty, ashamed, and generally down
  • Loss of interest in normal, previously enjoyable activities
  • Changes in appetite and weight, either eating more and gaining weight or eating less and losing weight
  • Insomnia or sleeping more than normal
  • Agitation or slowed down movements
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or focusing on and completing tasks
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicidal behaviors

While feeling down about an empty nest is normal, becoming depressed is not. It is not a typical response to this life change. Treatment can help you feel better and overcome this very real mental illness.

Get Treatment for Depression

If you are struggling with an empty home, you can benefit from treatment. Whether or not you are diagnosed officially with depression, professional support can help. Depression is a treatable condition through the use of medication and therapy, as well as healthy lifestyle changes.

Start with your trusted doctor if you are not sure how to find help for empty nest depression. He or she can guide you to find a good mental healthcare provider. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the impact it has on your functioning, you may benefit from regular therapy sessions or need more intensive care in a residential setting.

The benefits of residential, or inpatient, treatment include being able to focus completely on you and your treatment and wellness without distractions. You devoted years of your life to your children, and now it is important to focus on your own needs and mental health. A stay in a residential facility can help you learn how to manage depression, how to live a great life in an empty nest, and can invigorate your joy in living for yourself.

Call for a Free Confidential Assessment.

How Depression Is Treated

If you seek professional treatment for depression, you can expect to benefit from both medical care and therapy. Depression symptoms can be effectively managed with antidepressant drugs, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It is important to know, however, that these drugs take weeks to begin working. This is another good reason to seek treatment in a residential facility. It will give you the time and safe environment in which to find the best antidepressant for you.

In addition to medical care, depression is treated with therapy. Behavioral therapies can be particularly useful in giving you practical strategies for changing negative thoughts, behaviors, and moods that hold you back from enjoying an empty-nest life. Therapists can help you adjust to this big life change, improve relationships, learn healthy ways to cope with sadness and stress, and set and achieve goals.

A therapist will also help you make positive lifestyle changes that support depression management. These include finding new, enjoyable activities and hobbies, learning to recognize and respond better to triggers, avoiding alcohol, and taking care of your physical health.

Focus on the Positives of an Empty Nest

Research on empty nesters shows that many adults with grown children focus on the positive changes this transition brings. They are experiencing the benefits of an empty nest, in spite of missing their children. If you are struggling with loss at this time, it could help to focus on the positive changes this can bring.

For instance, many parents report that they have better relationships with their children after they leave home. Empty nesters are also focusing more on developing other relationships: with their partners, with their friends, and with family members like siblings. They also feel a greater sense of freedom and find they now have the time to pursue interests and hobbies that bring them pleasure.

Along with treatment if you need it, try to focus on the positive things this life change can bring. Find hobbies to fill your time, get part-time work, and spend more time with your partner and with friends. It can also help to begin nurturing a new relationship with your grown children. Spend time with them like you would with friends, meeting for coffee or going to the movies together.

Having an empty nest can be a contradiction: full of new opportunities and also sad and a big loss. If you have been focusing too much on the latter and are struggling to get over these negative feelings and moods, it may be time to seek treatment for depression. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust for support and to then get professional care and treatment.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

During the first 52 years of my life, my life had meaning, a purpose. When I was in elementary/high school my goal was to get good grades, decide on a career, and select a college (Oh, and I had fun along the way too). Done. In college I studied and set my eyes on a career. Done. I graduated and got married within a month and I was ready to tackle the world. I got a good job at a Fortune 50 company. Done. Ever since I could remember I have wanted to have children and that became a goal too.

Over the next 8 years I had three amazing boys, eventually leaving behind the career because I didn’t want to miss all the small or big moments of their lives. My life’s purpose was stronger than I ever knew it could. I loved being a mom. They were beings I loved before they had taken their first breath. They made my world bigger and brighter in every way. Being a parent allowed me to see all of humanity through very different eyes and it made me a better person.

And then they left home. They woke up one morning like they have thousands of other mornings and by nightfall they were gone. At first I told myself that it was like camp (yes, I was traveling down a river called De-Nile). But, after a few months, I had to let go of my delusion and face the fact that college is leaving home.

The pain that comes with empty nest is partly just missing their energy and laughter around the house, knowing that I will never again know them, know about their everyday lives, like before. As this reality has settled in during the past year I have realized I have not planned for this next phase of my life. I have no goals. What’s next?

As I began to look inwards I couldn’t get excited about the future. I began to pray for God to tell me what His plan is for me at this stage. He led me down a path I wasn’t expecting. He gave me the sense that I had much to contribute to society and the Church. However, I find myself out of shape, over weight, and with a relationship with Christ that wasn’t what it needs to be. This all needs me to get turned around and back on track! And now!

This blog is about my journey to get my ‘groove’ back.