Empty Nest Syndrome

What is empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome refers to the sadness and loss that you feel when your last child leaves home.

What is the cause?

You are at higher risk for empty nest syndrome if:

  • You see change as stressful, rather than as challenging or exciting.
  • It was hard for you to move out of your parents’ home.
  • It was very painful for you to send your children off to school or to camp.
  • Your sense of self is tied to being a parent.
  • You are a full-time parent who does not work outside the home.
  • You worry that your children aren’t ready to take care of themselves without your help.
  • Your marriage is unstable or unhappy.

Empty nest syndrome can affect both parents, but mothers seem to be most often affected.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling a strong sense of loss. You may think: “What is my purpose in life?” “My work is done. Who needs me?”
  • Feeling bitter, worthless, and unsure of what your future may hold
  • Feeling more alone than ever before
  • Thinking and talking about your children constantly
  • Pushing your children away, perhaps because you are angry or resentful that they want to leave you
  • Feeling guilty for not having spent more time with your children when they were home

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your symptoms. He will make sure you do not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms.

How is it treated?

Most parents adapt in 6 to 12 months. If you are depressed, or if symptoms last longer than a few months, you may be treated with therapy, medicine, or both.


Individual, group, and family therapy may offer support and help reduce sadness and worries. Support groups are very helpful.


Medicine may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms of depression and help you cope with stress.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Look at the positives. Think of all the things you have been waiting to do. This can be a time of joy, fulfillment, and relief. You and your spouse may enter a second honeymoon period. If you are a single parent, you may start dating, traveling, or doing other things that you have put off. You are free to focus on your own financial, emotional, and social needs.

    Work to build healthy relationships with your adult children. They still need you to notice their successes and strengths.

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area. Try to understand what made you start to feel this way.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, try to quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one have serious thoughts of suicide or harming others.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-13
Last reviewed: 2014-11-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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