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Ways to help you cope when your children leave home

Have you ever suffered from Empty nest syndrome?  If you recognise the signs here are some top tips on how to manage this new chapter in your life.

It’s quite a milestone when your child feels ready to leave home for the first time, whether to go to university or to move out to their own flat or house.  It can be a positive and exciting time for everyone, but for some parents, it can be an anxious and emotionally overwhelming time too.

“It’s natural for everyone to feel down occasionally, but when that feeling persists and starts to affect our lives then it could be a sign of depression. Empty Nest Syndrome is often the term used to describe the feeling of depression parents feel when a child moves out of home for the first time”, says Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare.

Recognise the signs

Although parents may have raised their children to be independent, the experience of letting a child go can be extremely painful.  The acute feelings of sadness and loss are real and parents may worry about how they will cope without their child at home.  There may be unexpected instances of depression even before the child leaves, prompted by a whole range of life issues apparently unconnected.

Empty Nest Syndrome symptoms can manifest in several ways.  There may be physical symptoms such as a change in weight, lack of energy, disturbed sleeping patterns and general aches and pains.  The emotional symptoms may include feeling upset or irritable, a general loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, and an inability to concentrate or make decisions, having negative thoughts about yourself, and feeling like you just can’t cope with life.

How to get through 

  • Try and share your concerns with your partner, other family or friends as this may help lessen your worries
  • Look out for those little prompts that may tell you that you’re starting to feel low before it gets worse
  • Keep talking to people – join a club or buy a pet, or find other ways of keeping up your social interaction – as these are all ways proven to help alleviate the symptoms of depression
  • Remember that children can be affected by your mood so try to stay relaxed as you work towards the move; as they too may be feeling a little worried
  • Get out and exercise as this can help with sleep and will generally make you feel better
  • Try to eat regularly and as healthily as possible
  • Use positive psychology – try and write down three good things that happen to you each day as this helps you to concentrate on the positive rather than the negative
  • If none of the above seems to help then you should make an appointment with your GP as they can advise on the best treatment for you. There are talking therapies available such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which are purported to be the most effective way to treat mild depression.  Alternatively, you may be prescribed anti-depressants for more severe depression.

It is all too easy to miss the first indicators of depression so it is crucial to recognise them for what they are and find the appropriate treatment to help you feel better.

Some spells of depression may only last a few weeks whereas others may last for a longer period of time. Remember that you never need to face these problems alone, there is always help and support available.  If you would like to read further our Mental Health Centre may also help.

Read more about coping with an empty nest here

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