I’m not going to sugar coat it. The thought of an empty nest has me visiting the doctor for newly diagnosed high blood pressure, visiting the therapist to be treated for anxiety, and visiting the pantry for way too much emotional eating.
I’ve always prided myself on being able to answer the question, “Will this really matter a week or a month from now?” with a resounding, “No!”
But this is different.
This feels like the biggest emotional crisis I’ve faced in 50-odd years.
In a week or a month, my son will still be gone, and I’ll still be left to figure out what becomes of me.
When it’s just the two of us again, will my marriage work? What will my schedule look like without all of the driving to rehearsals and concert nights? Who will play board games with me?
While discussing the best ways to manage my physical and mental health with my doctor recently, we also talked about coming to terms with the big changes going on in my life. Here are some ways we can all tackle empty nest syndrome.
What to do With an Empty Nest
1. Stop monitoring your kid and enjoy yourself.
Avoid over-texting your child or monitoring their social media accounts. Remember, their road blocks are no longer yours to navigate. This is the time to focus on things that we used to enjoy. Did you read or craft, but time with the family made that impossible? It’s time to get back to whatever it is that you used to love but gave up for parenting. Research shows that people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from mood disorders, stress, and depression.
2. Renew your vows.
We don’t have to walk down the aisle again, but we do need to focus on reconnecting with our partners. Plan date nights, take romantic trips, or just walk around the block holding hands like the old days. Research out of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota suggests that married couples are generally more content and happy when they are together rather than apart. Spending time with our spouses is good for us!
3) No stinkin’ thinkin’.
I had a sixth grade teacher that used this one liner just about every day. There’s a lot to be said for living a life with a cup half-full, versus half-empty, mentality. Find as many ways as possible to focus on the positive. One way to get started is writing in a gratitude journal. Before you fall asleep each night, spend some time writing a list of things you’re grateful for. According to a study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, people who feel grateful also sleep better. And sleeping better means you’re not tossing and turning all night worrying.
4) Find a good therapist.
For me, this has meant weekly appointments with a certified psychologist. For you, it could be seeing a professional or just finding a good friend to talk to. Spending time with someone who understands what you’re going through, either because they’re a professional or they’ve been in the same situation, helps us to understand we’re not alone, and that’s priceless. One of the biggest mistakes we can make as we go through this transition is trying to go through it alone. We all need someone to lean on.
The Dalai Lama once said, “Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” It’s time for me to watch my son soar. As I incorporate these tips my doctor and I discussed, I know I’ll still shed plenty of tears. But, focusing on my health and happiness is the best thing for me—and my son, too.