Understanding Empty Nest Syndrome: What Is It and Why Does It Happen?
Written by: Zafra Aswar Ali
To become a parent, one must be prepared to face a series of challenges specifically that relate to their children because of many significant life events associated with them. Out of such life events, one of the major events that occur within a family and has an impact on parents is when their adult children decide to leave the family home for various reasons. In this article, we will explore what is empty nest syndrome, the reasons for its occurrence, and how parents can cope with it.
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome can be defined as an emotional and psychological condition that parents or caregivers undergo when their children move out of home to pursue higher education, work, or start a new life. This can lead to feelings of sadness and loss of purpose which is often overlooked due to this event being viewed as normal. Even though empty nest syndrome is not a clinical condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), according to research, this syndrome can result in mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
It is also noteworthy that some parents are more susceptible to empty nest syndrome than others, especially single parents and parents who struggle in their marital life. So, not all parents undergo this experience. In addition, mothers tend to be more affected by empty nest syndrome comparatively because of the role they play as primary caregivers in most families.
Most of the time, empty nest syndrome takes place concurrently with other significant or difficult life events such as retirement, menopause, death of a spouse, or other challenges. During such situations, empty nest syndrome can last for years, but typically most parents adjust to being empty nesters within 2 to 3 months.
The Three Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome
1. Grief – As soon as the child leaves home, parents initially experience a sense of sadness and loss making them easily emotionally triggered and staying away from the usual activities.
2. Relief/Emptiness – After a few months have passed by parents would either feel relieved as they now have some time to spend by themselves, or they may feel empty.
3. Joy/Fear and Worry – The final stage also varies from parent to parent. Some of them would feel joyful for having fulfilled their responsibilities as parents and feel settled with a new way of life, whereas others would not only feel hopeless about their future lives but also continuously worry about their children’s lives as well.
Common Symptoms/Emotional Experiences
Based on the stages of empty nest syndrome, the symptoms are not necessarily negative as some empty nesters may be excited about a new life ahead. Let us look at some commonly noticeable symptoms connected to empty nest syndrome.
Empty nesters often feel lonely and isolated. They may tend to reduce their social interactions and often get caught up in nostalgia.
This is another common symptom of empty nest syndrome. Parents may be unable to focus on their work like before and would frequently worry and be anxious about what their children are doing.
Empty nesters can feel low sometimes. They may lack the motivation and energy to do their work and would be preoccupied with thoughts about their children.
4. Emotional Distress
Parents experiencing empty nest syndrome would find themselves going through a roller coaster of emotions. They are either sad about the absence of their children at home or happy about a newfound freedom.
5. Identity Shift
When children move out of home, parents no longer identify themselves as individuals who play the role of parents and struggle to adapt to a new stage in their lives. This may lead to a loss of purpose, particularly among stay-at-home parents.
6. Reevaluating Roles and Relationships
With a shift in identity, parents get an opportunity to reevaluate their roles and relationships as they do not have to engage in parenting daily. Additionally, they also get to rediscover their interests and make this new phase a positive experience.
How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome?
1. Acknowledge Your Emotions
It is completely normal to feel sad and lonely. It is important that these feelings are accepted without hesitation.
2. Embrace The Change
Take this as an opportunity to rediscover your interests and find more time for self-care. Invest more time in enhancing your personal growth which you could not engage in during the parenting phase.
3. Reconnect with Your Partner
When your children are no longer present at home, you can spend more time with your spouse and increase the bonding in your relationship. Research also suggests that 63% of empty nesters became closer to their partners after the leaving of their children.
4. Build Social Connections
Parenthood undoubtedly minimises social connections in most cases due to the minimum time parents have even for themselves. As an empty nester, you can utilise your free time to connect with your friends again. This will potentially reduce the feeling of loneliness.
5. Keep in Touch with Your Children
Due to the existing technology, it is easy to connect with anyone in any part of the world. So, although you become an empty nester, make use of the technology and maintain communication with your children wherever they are through chats and audio or video calls or even visit them if possible. This way, you can feel less lonely and still express your love and affection despite the distance.
6. Get Professional Assistance
Sometimes engaging in coping techniques to alleviate the negative symptoms associated with empty nest syndrome may not be sufficient. In that case, do not hesitate to seek support from a professional counsellor to manage your emotions via suitable therapies.
Children leaving the home to build their lives can be certainly overwhelming for parents and can lead to empty nest syndrome as it is a new life transition that parents may go through. It is however imperative to understand the symptoms linked with this empty nest syndrome as well as take it as an opportunity to overcome the challenges and work on self-growth with professional assistance if required.
Recognising Signs of Mental Health Challenges in Children and Adolescents
Written by: Thrishala Gunathunga
Have you seen how sometimes adults struggle to recognize signs of mental health challenges related to children and adolescents?
There are a few reasons for this, like not having enough knowledge about what a “mental health issue” is. Sometimes, we even normalize problematic behaviours, thinking they’re just a part of growing up. And let’s not forget the hesitation to talk openly about mental health, especially when it involves adolescents.
But the truth is, early intervention can help children develop effective coping skills and improve their overall quality of life. So, in this article, we will explore physical, behavioural and emotional signs of mental health challenges in children and adolescents.
- Frequent complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, or body pain without a clear medical cause can be a window to how they are expressing the emotional discomfort, or it can be somatic symptoms associated with depression or anxiety.
- Changes in sleeping patterns, such as excessive sleepiness in the daytime or trouble sleeping at night, can indicate symptoms associated with anxiety, mood disorders, or depression.
- Sudden weight changes, such as losing weight due to poor appetite or gaining weight due to excessive snacking, can indicate symptoms associated with depression, eating disorders, or other mental health issues.
- Longer periods of sadness, being irritable most of the time, and noticeable mood changes can be symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders.
- Withdrawing from friends, and family, and not being interested in the activities they once used to enjoy can be symptoms of depression, social anxiety, childhood trauma, or other mental health-related issues.
- Difficulty maintaining friendships at school or having little social interactions than developmentally appropriate can be symptoms of communication difficulties, social anxiety, childhood trauma, or bullying.
- Frequent conflicts with parents, teachers, and friends can be symptoms of emotion regulation difficulties or stress.
- Excessive worry about academics, social relationships, and even about simple day-to-day activities to the point that it interferes with normal functioning can be a symptom of anxiety or stress.
- Difficulty concentrating on studies and having a significant decline in cognitive performance (especially related to language) can be symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, learning disability, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.
- Intense feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and sadness can be symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, and childhood trauma.
- Unusual fear with anxiety attacks to the point that it interrupts daily functioning can be a symptom of anxiety disorder, childhood trauma, and bullying.
- Regular anger outbursts and unmanageable aggressive behaviour might be signs of conduct disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, or other emotional distress.
- Being overly sensitive to criticism can be a symptom of anxiety, low self-esteem, socialization issues, or other emotional distress.
- Having suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviours can be a symptom of intense emotional distress. Such signs should be taken seriously, and it is important to seek immediate professional help.
In conclusion, recognising the signs of mental health challenges among children and adolescents is essential in the long run. So, what can you do about it?
- You should first let the children and adolescents know you are there for them.
- Create a safe environment that empowers and comforts them, which will create the basis for them to talk to you about anything.
- Encouraging the pursuit of creative outlets, such as drawing, writing, music, or painting, is also a great way to express and cope with difficult emotions.
- Raising awareness about the importance of a good lifestyle with a balanced diet, good sleeping routines, and physical exercise also works!
However, if you feel your child is experiencing mental health challenges, speak with a mental health professional who specialises in working with children. This is because only mental health professionals can make an appropriate diagnosis and the necessary recommendations.
And keep in mind that it is okay to look out for the above signs. But don’t jump to conclusions on your own. After all, one size does not fit all. What we can do is be compassionate and provide a safe space for children and adolescents to communicate their true feelings.