Empty Nest Syndrome

What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

We all want our children to grow up healthy and happy, and to have wonderful lives. But, when our kids leave home, it can leave us feeling lonely and sad. Especially when so much of our time and attention was focused on them.

It tends to effect women more than men, and especially effects the primary caregiver - any parent that has stayed at home to raise the children.

Empty Nest Syndrome typically happens when grown up children leave the family home, either to move into their own place, to go travelling, or to start university.

Empty Nest Syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis or a disorder of any kind, it is in fact a transitional period where one might feel loneliness, sadness, even depression.

Many parents can feel a loss of purpose when their children leave home - finding themselves with too much time on their hands, and no idea what to do with it. However, Empty Nest Syndrome can manifest in many ways, with a loss of purpose being just one. Some couples experience marital problems when their children leave home - finding that there is perhaps less to distract them from any imperfections in the relationship.

What can be confusing is the way that the roles and relationships in the family shift. You are no longer your child's keeper, you aren't there to make sure they don't stay out too late, to make sure they eat a balanced diet, or to check that they are going to class. How often do you phone them up, for instance? Every day? Once a week? How do you negotiate this new dynamic with your child? What's key here, as it so often is, is communication.

What are the signs that it's too much?

There have been some studies to show that there can be an overlap between empty nest syndrome and depression, where the former can develop into the latter.

Some things that might be signs that depression is developing are;

  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things

  • Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless

  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much

  • Feeling tired or having little energy

  • Poor appetite or overeating

  • Feeling bad about yourself, that you’re a failure or have let yourself or your family down

  • Trouble concentrating on activities, such as reading the newspaper or watching television

  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people notice. Or, the opposite, being so fidgety or restless that you move around a lot more than usual.

  • Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way.

If any of these symptoms should develop, or you are worried about someone, it is best to seek medical advice from a GP or therapist.

What help is available?

Sometimes just talking to a friend or your partner can help - someone who might be going through the same thing. Alternatively, finding new activities - a new purpose - can be very helpful in filling the time that would otherwise be spent caring for the kids.

If it feels like it is all getting too much, and is potentially crossing over into a depression, you can seek help from your GP. In doing so, you might expect to be referred to a mental health professional such as a counsellor, for a limited number of sessions. However, if you are able to, and think that ongoing counselling might help, then finding a private therapist might be a better option. You can do this by searching online for therapists in your area.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at amylaunder.counselling@gmail.com

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