‘Empty nest syndrome’ is a term used to describe how women (and sometimes men) can sometimes feel after their children have left home. This occurs when the woman has spent the vast majority of her adult life looking after children, and is used to having that role as well as the company and the background noise that comes from having children around.
On the other hand it may also occur when a woman sends her child to nursery or to school for the first and time and then goes from having to look after a child 24/7 to just looking after them during the evenings and first thing in the morning. The expression comes from the imagery and the expression that children ‘fly the coop’ – that when they develop ‘wings’ and learn to survive on their own, they fly away leaving the ‘nest’ behind empty. Suddenly things can seem very quiet and it’s common for mothers in this situation to then experience a form of depression in the face of this new quietness.
This can be further exacerbated if the parent is also left alone – perhaps if they are a single parent, or perhaps if their partner travels a lot with work. This can then leave them on their own and with nothing to take up their time.
Things That Can Help Empty Nest Syndrome
If you are suffering from empty nest syndrome this can cause feelings of depression, loneliness, isolation or lack of focus and goal and these are all highly unpleasant emotions. However the latter ones are things that you can cope with by finding a replacement activity to keep you active and to prevent feelings of loneliness.
For instance if you are feeling lonely in the wake of your children leaving then there are several things you can do to prevent this.
Meet With Friends
For instance you are likely to find that talking with friends helps greatly, so why not take advantage of your new-found free time in order to see those friends more often? Arrange to have a weekly lunch with a few friends, or even daily, or dot various activities throughout the week. Routine can greatly help and while you may still miss your children, you won’t feel lonely when you are with other people. Chances are that if you’re currently going through empty nest syndrome, so too are some of your friends who are a similar age.
Alternatively if you have empty nest syndrome but you find that your friends are not as available as you, then it can help to throw yourself back into a career. This will help you to meet people on a regular basis, and it will also help you to regain purpose and identity. You can transition back from Mother into ‘writer’, ‘politician’, ‘sales clerk’ or ‘manager’. Chances are that you will have some relevant experience from before you were a full time parent, and this can help you to secure another job. Even if you don’t decide to pursue a career, then just taking on a regular part time job can help to give you some structure to your days and to make sure that you are constantly meeting new people.
Pick Up a Hobby
Picking up a hobby that you’ve always had an interest in is also another great way to use your new free time and this can give you some focus to distract yourself with when you’re feeling bored or lonely, as well as helping you to have some sort of goal and progress toward that goal.
Go to a Club
This may go hand-in-hand with taking up a new hobby – if you can choose some kind of activity to pursue that you can do in a group then this will again help to make sure that you get outside, that you meet new people and that you stay active and motivated. This could be something as simple as a book club, or something as unusual and active as a martial art. Anything that counts as exercise can also help to combat depression as it will result in the release of endorphins which are the body’s ‘happiness hormone’ and a great natural anti-depressant.
Focus on Other Relationships
This is also an opportunity to build your other relationships and these can help to fill some of the gap that you might be feeling after your kids have left. For instance why not take some time to focus on your partner and to spend time doing romantic things together – book some holidays, go on some dates and generally use the spare time you have to do things you couldn’t before. If you are a single parent then perhaps now is the time to start thinking about getting back into the dating game? As mentioned you can also use the time to strengthen friendship bonds.
Traveling is also something that you couldn’t do before when you had children, and so it’s a great way to focus on the positives of being more independent again. At the same time though it can also help you with the transitional shift by taking you out of your usual routine and environment and really shaking up your lifestyle. By changing your surroundings it no longer feels like everything is the same but ‘something is missing’ and instead makes everything new and exciting and helps you to form your new identity.
Get a Pet
Having a pet isn’t quite the same as having children – but it is similar in a number of ways. This will again give you a life to look after and will prevent the home from feeling too empty and quiet. At the same time stroking pets has been shown to produce endorphins and the fact that you have to walk them regularly ensures that you will meet new people and that you will get lots of fresh air, exercise and sun.
Generally then the intention is to try and find a new identity and a new purpose – and to do this you can either start to focus on the other areas of your life again like careers, romantic relationships, travel and friends (think about what made you happy before you had children); or by introducing new hobbies, activities and relationships that did not previously exist. This way you can find purpose and structure in your day again, while ensuring that you are distracted from the things that are currently no longer around.
Professional Empty Nest Depression Help
If you have tried making some of these changes and you find that you are still suffering from depression then it is important to seek help. Depression is a condition that is not to be underrated and which can be very dangerous if it leads to suicidal thoughts, while also causing a strain on your immune system and relationships.
There are many options for those suffering from empty nest depression and this will generally be treated in similar ways to other forms of depression. Seeing a psychologist can help, and particularly a cognitive behavioral therapist who will teach you to change your thinking patterns in order to better adapt to your new way of life. Alternatively a retreat or rehab can also provide a safe and restful environment to start to come to terms with a new lifestyle. If the depression is severe then a doctor may recommend a course of medication that can help to address the symptoms while you come to terms with the cause.