Five Ways To Combat Empty Nest Syndrome

After parenting for so many years, finally attaining an empty nest is such a wild phenomenon. Most parents have 18 years — sometimes more — to prepare for it, and yet when it hits, many are left feeling lost. Kids commonly leave home when they go away to college but others simply move away to another town or state to start their adult lives, and some move in with roommates or partners.

The term empty nest syndrome doesn't refer to the time when children leave the home, it's actually the ambivalent and difficult feelings that parents are left with when their kids move out (via Psychology Today). While parents naturally want to see their children excel, become independent, and start their own life journeys, they may also feel sad, depressed, anxious, or even without a purpose after caring for children for so long. This is especially true in women more than men.

However, empty nest syndrome need not be a life sentence. There are many ways to help ease the pain of your babes flying the coop.

Feel your feelings

The first way to get through any emotionally volatile time in your life is to feel your feelings, so it's important to cry and allow yourself to feel the sadness. 

"It's common for parents to find letting go to be a painful experience — even though they actively encourage their children to be independent," explains Dr. Jessica Sosso (via Mayo Clinic). "Parents might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need their care. They might miss being a part of their children's daily lives and their constant companionship."

It's natural to feel a bit sad when you separate from your loved ones. Lisa Athan writes for Grown & Flown, "My grief felt like an ending. It was the beginning of the end of my experience of being the kind of mom as I had been for the past 17 years. It was the beginning of my children becoming independent and not needing me in the same way as they had before."

Of course, not all parents feel sad. Some can't wait to start their new lives with added freedom. However, just because other parents may look thrilled, everyone is different, and how you feel is entirely valid.

Lean on people in your life

While there may be no greater bond than a mom and her babies, it helps to look at the other relationships in your life and devote energy into those. If you're married or have a good relationship with your child's father, talking with someone who may be feeling similar can be very comforting, especially when this time in your life may be fraught with challenges.

Child and family health psychologist, Tony Cassidy, says empty nest often happens in concurrence with common major life events (via BBC). "The problem is that it often coincides with other life changes such as onset of menopause, breakdown of marriage, loss of own parents."

One of the best things you can do is spend time with those who are going through the same thing (via Verywell Family). Reach out to friends to share your challenges. This will not only help to vent and commiserate but will also give you a reason to go out, whether you visit a friend's home, grab lunch, or simply take a walk together.

Reconnect with your former (and new) self

By the time a child grows up and moves away, many parents can barely even remember who they were or how they spent their days before they had kids. After being so caught up in the day-to-day chaos that comes with raising children, it's hard to know what to do when that's all over. Now is a good time to think about things you've said you always wanted to do (via Sallie Mae). Maybe you've always wanted to take up yoga, art, or hiking. Craft your schedule to include blocks of time to focus on yourself.

While you're settling into finding the new you, practicing self-care is one of the very best things you can do for yourself. Take the long baths that you couldn't before. Start a daily skin regimen or a weekly exercise routine. Get massages and manicures. Make yourself wonderful delicious meals that you like. Don't like to cook? Order your favorite take-out.

Other ways to take care of yourself — which can also help you avoid feeling lonely – include getting a pet or a plant, starting a gratitude journal, practicing good sleep hygiene, and letting in the sunlight in your make your home bright (via Oprah Daily).

Focus on your relationship

Though you're both feeling the loss and it can seem unnatural in the beginning, you and your partner will both eventually grow into a new normal but it will take some work (via Focus on the Family). Let's face it, kids bring a lot of distraction to a couple. If the relationship isn't good, you may have been going through the motions to keep the family going so once the child leaves, you're left to form a new routine (via YourTango). Even if the relationship is good, you'll still have to fall into a different way of life that includes just the two of you.

Use this time as an opportunity to rekindle the relationship and get to know your partner again. After almost two decades since becoming parents, you've both changed greatly as individuals.

Commit to doing fun activities. Take weekend road trips at a moment's notice, go to impromptu brunches, and shows and concerts, or stay home and enjoy the intimacy that comes from knowing you're alone in the house. No one is going to barge in, so you can talk, laugh, and bond freely, all while reconnecting.

It's possible to create an even stronger and better relationship than you've ever had.

Ask for help

Though the upheaval of going from having a house filled with kids to just living with your partner, or by yourself, can be jarring, little by little you should start to acclimate to a new normal. Most parents tend to fall into a new routine and adjust to the change within two months, though for some, it can take a bit longer (via Psych Central). While it's somewhat expected to feel sad, lonely, or even a bit worried about your child's well-being, it shouldn't captivate your every waking moment.

Since those who already suffer from depression have an increased risk of empty nest syndrome, be aware of worsening depressive symptoms, such as decreased interest in doing activities, inability to eat or eating too much, sleeping too much or too little, and loss of energy (via Mindful Health Solutions).

When feelings of sadness or anxiety begin to impact your daily life or prevent you from working, sleeping, or taking care of yourself, it's time to seek help. Finding a therapist to help process your feelings can be lifesaving. A professional mental health counselor can also help you navigate a new path in this next phase of your life journey.