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Published on October 12, 2018

How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome and Stop Feeling Lonely

How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome and Stop Feeling Lonely

Empty Nest Syndrome is not a mental disorder or clinical diagnosis. Instead, it is a term used to characterize the real feelings of deep sadness, angst, and loneliness that parents can feel when all of their children are grown and leave home.

It is a very real and sad experience for many parents. Not all parents who raise children experience the Empty Nest Syndrome. However, for those who think they may be prone to Empty Nest Syndrome, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for the empty nest.

If you are already in the empty nest phase and are experiencing this syndrome, then there are also some ways you can help yourself overcome the sadness.

What is it like to experience Empty Nest Syndrome?

For most parents and caregivers who experience Empty Nest Syndrome, it triggers the grieving process. This is more often experienced by parents, typically mothers, whose primary life responsibility is care for their children.

It can be compounded if there are other life events happening concurrently such as retirement, menopause, or divorce. They have spent their days making meals, acting as chauffeur for all of the kids’ activities, and then spent countless hours attending games, plays, and school functions. The parent whose life revolves around the lives of their off spring will definitely have emotions tied to the child leaving home.

The grieving process is triggered because there is a loss of that parent’s life. The child may still be alive and well, but the parents can still experience grief because that child is no longer in their home under their direct guidance and supervision.

Again, the degree that a parent experiences this grief and emotional distress varies from one parent to the next. The more the parent is heavily involved in their child’s life and activities, to the exclusion of their own activities, the more that the parent will likely experience emotional turmoil, distress, and grief.

How to deal with Empty Nest Snydrome

1. Pursue fulfilling activities

For some parents, they now have a gaping hole in their life. They no longer are needed to go to sporting activities, help with homework, or cook nightly meals for their kids. For the parents who are heavily involved in their kids’ lives, this gaping hole needs some filling.

However, it can’t just be filled with meaningless activity. Parents need to pursue new interests or pick up an interest that they had previously. The more the activity feels meaningful to the individual, the more the void of the children being grown and gone can be filled.

It doesn’t mean that you need to run out and volunteer at the cancer or hospice unit today. That idea may terrify you. Instead look introspectively at yourself and what you enjoy.

For example, you may have an art degree that you haven’t used since you began staying at home with the kids. You always wanted to teach art classes. Getting plugged in at a local art studio that offers art classes may be a good option to look into. You may find that teaching others the love of art and self-expression through art brings you great life satisfaction.

You have to find something that is of interest to you that will help you also feel that you have meaningful purpose.

Avoid the pursuit of activities that are individual focused if you are dealing with loneliness. Doing an activity alone won’t help you feel less lonely in most cases. Instead, find activities that include others.

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For example, if you enjoy photography then join a photography club. Learn from others and develop friendships with others who are passionate about the trade. You may find that the next step would be using your photography skills to capture the memories of others and share your gift with them. Your skills and abilities can grow and flourish in the time that you now have to dedicate to them.

Figure out what you like to do, what makes you passionate, and then get involved in this activity in a way that involves other people.

There are other activities parents with Empty Nest Syndrome have found to be helpful in moving forward. Some of these activities include higher education such as University for themselves, volunteering with a local charity, reviving old friendships, and pursuit of a job or career.

Whatever it may be, find something that interests you and makes you feel of value. Don’t languish at home missing your child and hoping for your feelings to magically change on their own.

Time will help heal you, as you process through the stages of grief. Finding new pursuits and interests can also help you in this process of moving forward with life.

2. Rekindle your romance

There are far too many stories of couples who divorce or separate after the children have grown and the youngest leaves the nest. Couples find that they have nothing in common with one another once the children are gone.

This is a perfect opportunity to rekindle your romance and focus on your relationship. It is also an opportunity for you to get into a shared interest together.

You may find that you have nothing in common. That’s okay. Find something that you can both mutually agree to do together. It doesn’t have to be a passion for both of you. Instead, it is something that you are both willing to do because you want to be together. It is shared life experience that makes us bonded to others.

Bond yourself and rekindle your romance by sharing life together. It could be something as simple as taking up cycling, yoga, or bird watching together. It could also be something more extravagant like world travel.

Whatever it may be, do it together to engage one another and share the experience.

3. Spousal support

Not all parents experience the same emotions when the last child leaves the nest. Actually, more than likely, you will have very different emotional experiences. Your spouse or partner may be too busy in his or her career to even notice that you are going through the Empty Nest Syndrome.

Share with your partner or spouse what you are experiencing. Let them know that you are having trouble coping with the children all leaving the nest, and that you need emotional support during this time of transition. They may be completely unaware of your feelings, unless you say it and are straight forward about your feelings.

If your partner or spouse comes to you and they are experiencing the Empty Nest Syndrome, be there emotionally for him or her. Let them express their feelings and emotions free from judgement. Offer to do an activity with them, in order to rekindle your own lives together.

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It is an adjustment to the home environment and parents left behind when all the children leave the nest. Providing support to one another and reinvesting in your relationship through shared activities can help with this transition.

4. Get help if needed

If you are having difficulty coping with the Empty Nest Syndrome on your own, then seek professional help. Counseling can help you get through this stage of life.

Recognize that it is a stage and that life will be changed and new in some ways. It doesn’t mean your life situation is better or worse, it is simply different.

Seek help if you feel your grief is preventing you for completing your daily tasks and activities.

Also, if you are having trouble finding interest in things that used to be of interest, you should seek some help. Losing interest in your personal activities can be a sign of depression. It is possible to slip into a state of depression for a time because of Empty Nest Syndrome.

If you feel you are getting depressed and unable to shake it, seek professional help. It is normal to experience some depressed emotions if the grieving process has set in.

The five stages of grief are denial and isolation, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. You may experience all, some, or even none of these when your child leaves home. It is good to understand that many parents do experience all five of these stages of grief if they have Empty Nest Syndrome.

If you find that you are stuck in the stage of depression and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, then professional help, such as counseling is highly recommended.

How to avoid empty nest syndrome

There is no fool-proof method for avoiding Empty Nest Syndrome. However, there are some ways to help prevent it from happening.

Some key elements include preparing your child to leave the nest, reassurance to you and the child that you still belong to one another as family, having interests outside of your children, and investing time and energy in your marriage or intimate relationship.

1. Help your child prepare to leave the nest

For many parent who experience the Empty Nest Syndrome, the angst being felt is often related to feelings that their child may not be ready to take on the world. In the time leading up to their departure, more specifically, their last year at home, it is a time to prepare them.

Ensure that they have all the supplies and skills needed. Do they know how to cook basic meals? Can they work laundry machines? Do they know how to use city transportation if needed? Do they have everything they need to live in their new housing?

Help them to prepare for their departure by equipping them with basic life skills that they will need to survive and thrive on their own. Being the one to move them into their first apartment or living quarters is also helpful in this process.

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You can talk through setting up in a home, how to meet neighbors, and how to be safe at home by locking all doors even during the day. These topics can help them visualize themselves being not only successful on their own but also safe and competent.

2. Reassure yourself and your child

Some of the stress of a child leaving is that their home is changing. They now have a new home, whether that be an apartment, dorm, or something else.

Let the child know that their home base is still with you. You will always be their “home”. This will help reassure you and them that you belong together, even if you are miles apart. You will always be there as a parent as a safety net to help your child if they need to return home.

There are cases and instances where this happens. That’s okay. They can re-launch and leave the nest again later if needed. Let them know that you are there for unconditional support and love. This is the framework that makes lasting family relationships.

If you want to have close and healthy relationships with your grown children, then you must reassure them that you are always there for them and the door to home is always open as well. This doesn’t mean that you need to be the financial provider for your adult children.

I know of adult children who have paid rent to their parents. Whatever arrangements work for your family are fine, as long as the child knows that they have you, as the parent, to count on if all goes wrong in life.

Acknowledge that your child may also experience emotional stress and turmoil in leaving home. Be there as an encouragement to your child. Being available by phone or text is also helpful to a child who may be experiencing stress in their departure from home.

Every child is different. Just be aware of the potential for these emotions from your child. Be prepared to provide comfort, encouragement, and emotional support. One way that can help you both is to have a weekly phone call scheduled for the same time each week.

For example, you have a call arranged for every Sunday night at 5:00 PM. You can text and touch base during the week, but that scheduled time is to touch base and see how things are really going. Ask if they are ok. Ask if they need help with anything. Offer emotional support when needed.

3. Have interests and activities outside of your children

In order to not feel a complete void of life when your children all leave home, take the time for your own hobbies and interests. These should be interests that are outside of your family and children.

Taking the time to pursue your own interests and hobbies keeps you grounded as an individual. This also helps parents in their own self care.

We all need time to do things that are just for ourselves. It is not that we are being selfish. It is investing in yourself so that you can come back and care for your family in a refreshed and invigorated way.

Doing things that you enjoy and find passion are helpful to making your life fulfilling. Don’t forget about yourself while caring for your loved ones.

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Someday they will leave the nest. When that day comes, it will be an opportunity to pursue your interests a bit more because you have more ample time.

Don’t put all of your interests to the wayside for the sake of your family, or you are doing both your family and yourself a disservice.

Not sure what to do as your hobby? Here’s How to Find One That Fits Your Personality.

4. Invest in your marriage

Take the time now, while the kids are still at home to connect with your spouse or partner. Engage one another daily with conversation that doesn’t revolve solely around the children.

Find interests and hobbies that you can do together so that you feel connected. Someday, the kids will be grown and you will be left together in an empty home. Things will get quiet. That quietness can be deafening if you don’t know how to connect with the other person left in the home with you.

Take the time and effort now to go on regular date night, to spend time together outside of the children, and to find activities you enjoy doing together. Check out these 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples.

Having a strong relationship outside of the children is important because that day will come when they all leave the nest.

Final thoughts

Not all parents experience emotional lows when their kids leave the nest. Some parents look forward to the day when their children are off on their own and they can reclaim their home for themselves.

Perhaps it’s because they look forward to walking around their home in their skivvies all day or maybe they look forward to pursuing their own hobbies more. Whatever the reason, not all parents experience sadness with their children leaving the nest.

For many parents, it is a mix of emotions. You look forward to more time for yourself and your interests. On the other hand, you will miss your children being around all of the time and that thought makes you sad.

Recognize that these varied emotions are normal. Know that the sadness and emotional angst will pass, but don’t count on it passing without some active change happening on your part.

Find your passion and pursue something meaningful. Get an interest that engages others.

Your children may need you less now that they are grown, but there is a whole world out there that needs you.

Featured photo credit: Charles DeLoye via unsplash.com

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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