Empty Nest Syndrome

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What is the Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome (ENS) refers to a psychological condition characterized by feelings of loneliness, depression, and loss parents experience when their kids leave home for the first time. Statistics show it to be more common among women and likely to coincide with factors like retirement and menopause.

The term, taking its name from the habitual flying away of birds from nests, was first introduced by writer Dorothy Canfield in 1914, and the condition was clinically identified during the 1970s.

Causes

The event of a kid’s leaving home to pursue higher studies or for a job is a painful reality that forces parents to undergo a host of mixed emotions. In most cases, the obstacles faced include:

  • A crumbling sense of purposelessness in not being able to take part in the daily activities of the kid as earlier
  • Uneasiness in sharing the home only with the spouse after living for years with children
  • Profound anxiety over the safety and wellbeing of the kid in the outside world

Who Are at Risk

The syndrome is more likely to affect those who:

  • Are stay‑at‑home mothers
  • Are overprotective of their child’s needs
  • Believe that their respective roles lend them their self-identity (chiefly mothers)
  • Feel that they have lost control over their kid (mostly fathers)
  • Have an only child
  • Suffer from a constant fear of the separation
  • Believe that the child has left too late or too early in comparison to standard norms
  • Have problems in their marriage
  • Have had children at an early age
  • Are single parents
  • Are aged
  • Do not get adequate emotional support from other family members to get over the loss

Signs and Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms involve feelings of:

  • Loss
  • Isolation
  • Panic or anxiety
  • Purposelessness
  • Grief
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Bitterness
  • Regret
  • Guilt

Physical symptoms include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue

Associated Conditions

  • Depression
  • Identity crisis
  • Alcoholism

Diagnosis

Though the syndrome cannot be clinically diagnosed, medical professionals may help to identify the problem and take the required steps to help cope with it.

Getting Over Empty Nest Syndrome

How to Deal With ENS at Home

  • Renew Interest in Hobbies: The extra time can be invested in pursuing long forgotten hobbies such as gardening or singing.
  • Make Friends: ENS is a common condition undergone by most parents. So, it is a good idea to seek likeminded friends with whom time can be easily spent.
  • Rediscover the Passion of Married Life: Most couples lose the necessary spark of romance and togetherness in rigorously nurturing children. Initiative can be taken to re-kindle it so depressing thoughts and feelings can be unhesitatingly discussed with the spouse.
  • Be in Touch With Your Kid: Random phone calls, emails and texts to maintain regular contact with the child can help as well.

If negative feelings persist even after following the above measures, seek professional help that may involve the following:

Psychotherapy

Several guidelines stressing on the need to stay positive, or take up a job are provided to help the individual to enhance her quality of life.

Medication

Certain antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs may help handle the symptoms and prevent associated conditions, such as depression, that may develop in the long run.

Can Empty Nest Syndrome be Prevented

The effects of empty nest blues can be better handled if some mental preparations for the departure are taken in advance such as calmly viewing it as an inevitable fact. It will also help in future if there are other kids at home.

How Long Does it Last

An individual may get over ENS within a few months, or take around 18 months to 2 years. The recovery usually depends upon the manner in which she comes to term with the loss.

Parents are now better equipped with technologies like Skype etc. that to some extent helps them to bridge the emotional gap resulted due to ENS. Moreover, issues such as unemployment, extended education, economic crisis have led many 25‑ 30-year-olds to return to their parents in the last decade.

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