What is Empty Nest Syndrome, and How Can You Cope with It?
Reviewed by Leann Poston, M.D on 9/9/20
Empty nest syndrome (ENS) occurs when parents feel sadness or loss after their last child leaves home. This isn’t an official mental illness or clinical diagnosis; rather, it’s a common phenomenon that many parents experience when their children move out or go to college. Parent-child relationships that are full of strife or conflict can contribute to the severity of ENS, while strong and positive relationships often adjust to these changes more easily.
Empty Nest Syndrome Symptoms
There are a number of different signs and symptoms that you may be experiencing ENS. Create a bullet point list of common symptoms of ENS. Be sure to include feelings of sadness, loneliness, and/or loss; a loss of your sense of purpose; marital stress or strife; and intense or severe anxiety about your children.
What is the Impact of Empty Nest Syndrome?
ENS may not be a formal mental health issue, but it can have an intense impact on your life and wellbeing. If left unchecked, ENS can lead to depression, substance use, marital conflicts, and even an identity crisis. However, recent research suggests that work and family conflict is reduced after children leave home. When children move out, it provides new opportunities for parents to explore new interests and focus on their relationship and themselves.
Tips to Cope with an Empty Nest
Though it can be difficult to deal with, ENS is not the end of the world, and there are many healthy and positive ways you can cope with it. If you feel like you may be experiencing ENS, consider embracing some of the following coping strategies.
It may sound impossible, especially if you’re feeling sad or depressed, but do your best to remain positive throughout this time. Instead of thinking about how you “lost” your child, think about how this is an opportunity to enjoy a new phase of your life. Maintaining a positive attitude about this situation is one highly effective way to reduce your feelings of anxiety and stress about your children moving out.
Focus on Yourself
Try to take some time to focus on yourself, your needs, and your interests. You’re still a parent, but without your children in your home, you now have a lot more time and energy to spend on yourself. Consider pursuing a new hobby (or picking up an old one), redecorating or repurposing the space in your home, going back to school, and enriching your life with other things. Taking care of your own needs is important to promote your health and wellness as you age.
Reconnect with Your Partner
Take some time to focus on rekindling your relationship with your romantic partner. It’s all too easy to get caught up in being parents and not give your romantic relationship the time and energy it deserves. Plan date nights, travel together, discover new activities you can do together, and take advantage of your now-empty house. If you or your partner is having trouble in the bedroom, there are erectile dysfunction treatments available that may help you fully enjoy your alone time.
Keep In Touch with Your Children
Remember that although your children have moved out, they aren’t out of your life forever. You can still be involved in their lives and hear about all the new and exciting things they’re doing with regular texts, phone calls, emails, and visits. Just try not to overdo it or be overbearing.
Seek Professional Help
If you’re really struggling, it may be worth pursuing the help of a mental health professional. It’s natural to feel sad during this time, but when that sadness turns into depression, causes unhealthy behaviors, anxiety, or affects your work or daily life, you should reach out to someone for help. There are effective anti-anxiety treatments available that can significantly help with the overwhelmed feeling of anxiety.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
- Morin, A. (2019). 5 Signs and Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/signs-of-empty-nest-syndrome-4163787
- Winch, G. (2013) How to Overcome Empty Nest Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201308/how-overcome-empty-nest-syndrome
- Allen TD, Finkelstein LM. Work-family conflict among members of full-time dual-earner couples: an examination of family life stage, gender, and age. J Occup Health Psychol. 2014;19(3):376-384. doi:10.1037/a0036941 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24885688