Empty Nest Syndrome is the depression aged people go through after their children leave home. Feeling empty, lonely and left out, the ‘second childhood’ (old age) brings in a surge of pain and grief. “Empty nest syndrome is a very real feeling of grief and loss, including feelings of loneliness and a shifting of your sense of purpose. It most frequently happens when your children go off to college or start to live independently,” says Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., N.C.C., D.C.M.H.S., L.M.H.C.
Empty Nest Syndrome is not diagnosed as a depressive disorder, it is rather a phenomenon that old people undergo. There is still less awareness about how we can help parents cope with this.
The challenges of Empty Nest Syndrome
After the child moves out, parents face crucial challenges that become a harsh reality for them to handle.
- Adjusting themselves with the changing parent-child relationship.
- Reverting back to normal life without kids and finding new ways to fill the emptiness they are left with.
- Taking care of the household and other work which they often find difficult to do.
- Trying to accept the normality of the phenomena is the biggest challenge. All parents know that it is completely normal for the child to move out, yet the pain seems unbearable to them.
- For single parents, the situation is even more difficult as they are left to live all alone.
The symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome include
- Unbearable sadness and grief when the child leaves home.
- Difficulty in carrying out the usual daily life functions.
- Reduced appetite and sleep.
- Frequent spells of crying and holding back to old memories.
- Difficulty maintaining a good relationship with the child after he/she moves out. Parents might blame the child out of distress.
The Coping Strategies for the sufferers
Coping with the distress of Empty Nest Syndrome is not an easy task after all. The main reason for this is the age group of the sufferers. It cannot be denied that people in old age have less adjustment and acceptance capacities than young people. Hence the sadness seems unbearable for them.
- Engage in activities that you like – Doing things that make you happy is always a good way to uplift the mood. Resort to work like gardening, nature walking or cooking to keep yourselves engaged with the things you like to do.
- Meet up with old friends – Consider old age as a permanent break from all the duties and responsibilities you have been doing for years. Meet up with old friends, hang out with them and rejuvenate the old memories of life. It brings happiness and fills in the void.
- Spend quality time with yourself – Though it seems very difficult to look beyond the grief, try to pamper yourself as much you can. Cook your favorite dish, go out for shopping and redefine your self-worth that got burdened with the years.
- Set up frequent meetings with children and their family – Meet up with your kids, go to their homes or invite them to yours. This can create some beautiful memories that would improve the parent-child relation.
- Expect less, accept more – Try not to expect anything which can hurt you. People are often less sympathetic towards parents whose children move out as they consider it to be a normal phenomenon that every other parent faces. Expecting to be understood and heard often results in disappointment. Be your own best friend. That is the best way to get over the grief.
- Reminiscence therapy – This is advised by therapists and is considered an effective way of coping with Empty Nest Syndrome. Parents who live alone can take out some time, maybe once or twice a week, or as frequently as they like, to go through old pictures and remember the happy moments of the past. Recalling the happy times replenishes the pains even if it is for a short while.
“Try to make some contact with other people who have been in similar circumstances,” Dr. Scott Bea PsyD says. “They can provide support by helping you feel more normal about some of the sentiments you’re experiencing. Through their experience, they also can help you to understand some of the feelings that your kids might be expressing.”
To help parents cope with Empty Nest Syndrome, children should accompany them in sailing through the storm without feeling lonely. The solution for this lies as much in the hands of the sufferer as the ones causing it. Not that anybody is to be held responsible, but the more empathetic children would be, the less painful Empty Nest Syndrome would be for parents. “Transitions in life can be difficult. If your transition to an empty nest has left you suffering from grief, depression, anxiety, or regret, make an appointment with a local therapist. It can be healing to discuss what you are experiencing with a trained and experienced professional.,” says Julie K. Jones, Ph.D., LPC.