February 2, 2017

That empty nest may be super quiet, but here are some ways to ‘deal with the downs.’


Once the excitement of this new year has faded a little, the winter blahs might seem overwhelming.

For new empty nesters, the post-holiday letdown may be even more pronounced.

“Holidays are a total mixed bag for most people, and now you’re reliving that empty nest again,” said Ellen Clark, a licensed clinical social worker at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Let’s face it, it might be a relief to get your college-age kids out of the house and out of your refrigerator, but wow, the house sure is empty again. Deep-down, this is a loss. If there are other losses through death or divorce, that just compounds it. And single parents may struggle more during this time, Clark said.

She offers several ways to deal with the downs.


Yes, someone else gets it. You are not alone.

“It’s easy to withdraw, but that just feeds sadness,” Clark said. “Push against that natural inclination to withdraw.”

“When you’re in pain, it’s very personal and isolating,” she said. “Reaching out can be hard. But you’ll always feel better after. I’ve heard so many say, ‘I didn’t want to go, but was so glad I did.’”

For months, Brenda Cole had been trying to prepare herself.

“I had been so involved with my kids, I wondered what I’d do with my free time,” said the Nolensville, Tennessee, single mother of two, the youngest of whom started college last fall. Many of her friends are still busy with kids at home, so she knew she’d have to find something.

She looked for groups to join and nothing clicked, so, she pushed out of her comfort zone and started her own.

A simple ask on a neighborhood Facebook page about interest in an empty nesters group has led to new friendships through Saturday morning coffees, monthly dinners out and more. She and a core group of five come up with ideas and a calendar. “It’s just different things to get out of the house and make new friends,” she said.

Cole admits it’s still difficult to cook for one, but she’s finding her groove. “We had a great Christmas and I didn’t even cry when they left this time.”


“Continue to work toward a new definition of yourself,” said Clark. “What did I put on the back burner? Think about that. Did I always want to do music or maybe go hiking? And how can I develop that?”

Remember those things you’ve been meaning to do? Less time taking care of kids should mean more time for taking care of you.

Take care

You’ve heard it before. Exercise raises endorphin levels in the brain. That’s real.

“If we had a pill that does what exercise does for you, it would be a bestseller,” Clark said. Physical activity – walking, hiking, running, yoga, anything – is huge. It helps to get into something structured such as a hiking meetup, or a class or club, for both the physical and the social benefits.

“It all comes down to people being focused on their kids and often self-care was on the bottom of to-do list,” she said.

You’ve raised a great kid(s). Reward yourself!


If exercise, social engagement, bringing your interests forward isn’t working, another avenue to consider is counseling.

“What draws so many into counseling is loss,” said Clark. “When you have more bad days than good and can’t engage, and have no motivation to do any of these things, seek counseling.”