What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Has your last child just left for college? Are you feeling lost and empty now that they’re gone? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

This feeling is completely natural for all parents, but empty nest syndrome can be tough to navigate, and it can throw you and your routine into a rut.

What is empty nest syndrome exactly? We’ve got you covered. Keep reading to find out.

What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Maybe you’ve heard of it before, or maybe this is your first time coming across the term, but empty nest syndrome is the feeling of loss and sadness when your last child leaves the home. What’s interesting about empty nest syndrome is that it’s not actually a medical diagnosis, but a psychological phenomenon.

Empty nest syndrome is traced back to the prime of the patriarchal society in the United States. When first discussed back in 1914, it was used to explain the depression that women would experience when the last of their children would leave the house. The loss of the last child essentially took away a majority of the mother’s meaning and motivation in the sense of traditional, patriarchal motherhood.

Pushing away that outdated reasoning for empty nest syndrome, we can start to see the modern and straightforward reasoning for this phenomenon. As parents, you have raised, taken care of, and spent almost every single day with your child for 17 plus years. As soon as their presence is suddenly gone, it’s only natural to feel lost.

Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome

While empty nest syndrome isn’t an actual disease or disorder, it does have symptoms. Many of the symptoms associated with empty nest syndrome also correlate with those of anxiety and depression.

Conflicting Emotions

As a parent, you raise your kids with the intention of sending them into the world to try their hardest to do their best. When it comes time for them to leave the nest, you may be experiencing happiness and excitement because you’ve accomplished the hard part and now you get to witness your child blossom in their new life.

But shouldn’t you be sad that they’re leaving? Thoughts like these may also occur and combat your feelings of joy for your kids. If you haven’t felt plagued by the situation yet, as soon as it comes time for them to leave, sadness, fear, and loss may overwhelm you.

Irregular Sleep

Having difficulty falling asleep and even irregular sleep patterns can be another symptom of empty nest syndrome. The stress of worrying about your child being on their own can have an impact on your sleep quality.

This stress and worry can also affect your dreams, giving you nightmares. These nightmares will then wake you up in the middle of the night, throwing off your sleep patterns.


Guilt may be another symptom that comes with empty nest syndrome. With your child gone, all you can think about is them. This will lead you to remember so many memories, some prompting you to feel like you didn’t do enough for them in those moments, which can lead to an overall feeling of guilt that you didn’t do enough for them their whole life.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Your stress can manifest in different ways, but some coping mechanisms are unhealthy. Binge eating or binge snacking, excessive drinking or drug use, and excessive shopping are all unhealthy outlets for your anxiety.

Coping With Empty Nest Syndrome

As Isaac Newton’s third law of physics states: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This rings true for coping mechanisms. Where there are unhealthy ways to cope, there are positive ways to cope, like this and our mechanisms below.

Keeping in Touch

One of the easiest things you can do to help your empty nest syndrome is to keep in contact with your child. Don’t be afraid or hesitant to reach out to them when you miss them. If you have a good relationship with them, they most likely have similar feelings.

Just be sure not to bother them too much. In a new world, they need to figure out and experience new things without overbearing parents. When they need your advice, they’ll come to you.

Shelter With Support

As is the case with most things, having a solid support system is great for these low feelings. Be sure to sit down with your partner or your friends and tell them how you feel. Expressing your emotions will make you feel better and your loved ones can validate you with their love and support.

Optimism Is Your Friend

Letting these negative feelings impact the way you view your day-to-day life can start to take a toll on you as time goes on. It’s important to stay positive and look on the bright side of things. Even if it’s just the little things and the small bursts of positivity every day, it can go a long way to making you feel better again.

Does Empty Nest Syndrome Go Away?

So, what is empty nest syndrome? In a nutshell, it’s a completely valid and natural state of mind to be in once your last child has left home. Will it ever go away?

Like most things in the world, empty nest syndrome will go away with time. While you cope and navigate a new life with your child out of the house, be sure to check out our site for stories and advice on life after kids.

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