Tips to help you fly through empty nest syndrome – Dr Mark Winwood
For many parents, the emotions they feel when a child leaves home, either to go to university or to move into their first flat or house, can be quite positive ones – a sense of their child progressing in their life. Yet for others this can be an overwhelming and anxious time.
Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare, says, ‘We all feel down from time to time and it’s a normal part of life. But when that low feeling won’t go and becomes deeper, like a cloud affecting our lives, it’s a sign of depression. Depression caused by a child moving out of the family home is often referred to as Empty Nest Syndrome.
Signs of Empty Nest Syndrome
‘A parent may expect to be upset, worried or stressed and they may wonder how they will cope without having their children at home. Episodes of depression can occur beforehand out of the blue and can be triggered by a variety of seemingly unrelated stressful events such as worries about jobs, money, bereavements or a physical illness.
‘Physical symptoms can sometimes be the first sign of depression, such as aches and pains, sleeping badly, changes in appetite and having no energy. Emotional symptoms can include feeling constantly sad or low, finding difficulty in concentrating or making decisions, a loss of interest in life or a feeling that you can’t cope with things that you used to, feeling irritable or having negative thoughts about yourself, and even thoughts of self-harming.’
How to survive this milestone
- Don’t be afraid of speaking to your partner or a friend about your concerns which may also help alleviate any worries you may have.
- Identify triggers that may indicate your mood is deteriorating. This will allow you to get support from others before the symptoms take over.
- Seeking support from friends and family, or looking for other ways to extend your social contact, e.g. joining a club or even owning a pet, can help too and are all ways in which you can help ease the symptoms of depression.
- It’s also important to remember that children can pick up on your emotions, moods and worries, so try to keep a relaxed, calming atmosphere around the home in the build up to the move. After all, it’s an exciting new chapter in their lives and they may also be feeling worried about their next steps.
- Taking exercise is beneficial and often helps with sleep problems.
- Eating well is also important, so try to eat regular, healthy meals.
- Try using some of the tools of positive psychology, it can be useful to identify 'happier' moments in our lives in order to get through harder times. A really good technique is to make a habit of writing down three pleasant things that have happened to you at the end of each day - this helps you to reflect on the positive.
- If these tips don’t help, then it is important to seek professional advice from your GP or health provider who can advise on the best course of treatment. They can refer you to a talking treatment, such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These are regarded as the best approach for mild to moderate depression. If you have been depressed for a while or have severe depression, your GP may prescribe antidepressants.
Signs of depression can be easily missed, so it’s important to know what they are so that you can recognise them and seek the right treatment to make you feel better.
There are no timescales for depression, some bouts can last just a few weeks whereas others can last much longer. It’s important to remember that you do not need to tackle problems on your own. Our experts are available to offer help and support and to read more, visit our Mental Health Centre.