The menopause is a time of great transition in a woman’s life.
At this point many things are changing in our bodies. Our hormones are rebalancing themselves, our body shapes are growing and shifting and let’s not even mention what happens to our vaginas. The list can go on and on. However, if you’re one of the women with children going off to university at around this time, this can also be a period of great change within your family and household.
What is it?
Empty Nest Syndrome as it’s called is the period in a parent’s life when all children have left for either work or university and it is once again themselves alone at home. It’s the sense of “oh I’m not needed anymore,” for a lot of people that find their purpose for the past eighteen or so years is now suddenly over. For women who might already be in a more fragile state as a result of the menopause, they can often find this period in their life particularly challenging. It is important to note that Empty Nest Syndrome is not a clinical disorder. This means that it’s simply the name given to a period in a person’s life when these feelings of loneliness, depression and sometimes loss are heightened.
Being More Sad Than Usual
Many women find at around this time they’re constantly on the brink of tears. Something sad can happen that can just set you off. This is normal. Take into consideration that you’re also going through the menopause. This is a very confusing time not just for your mind, but also for your body. Your body is busy processing the lack of hormones in its system, but is also trying to deal with this new emotional event in your life. Naturally you would feel more sensitive and emotional. This is nothing to be ashamed of. I once heard from a woman who burst into tears when she made too many portions of spaghetti, forgetting she only had to cook for two now.
Feeling Angry or Frustrated More Easily
We all process our emotions differently. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to empty nest syndrome is the lack of control you have over the situation. It’s not as if we can control when our children go off to university or move out for work. We also can’t make them live at home forever. However, this lack of control can bring about a lot of unresolved feelings of anger and frustration. Which as they are no longer around, you may tend to take out on other things.
Experience Episodes of Anxiety
This is similar to feeling a sense of loss of control. Your child is off beginning their lives. They’re having fun (and hopefully studying too.) You certainly remember what it was like being that age. And that is exactly why you worry for them. It’s normal to have worries about whether they are eating well or simply filling up on endless pot noodles and cheesy pasta. It might even be tempting to check up on them all the time just to make sure they are ok. Anxiety and the menopause are closely tied together. I have already spoken out a lot about my own anxiety and the menopause. So remember when you’re feeling like your anxiety is at an high, to just close your eyes, take a deep breath and try to find a safe space for you to take a break.
Feeling Like You’ve Lost a Sense of Meaning
For more or less the past eighteen years of your life your world may have revolved around school drop offs, piano lessons, rugby practice, etc… That took up a lot of your time and effort. While we all might have complained and moaned during these times, now that they’re gone everything feels a little empty. It’s understandable. It has been found that those who have chosen the full-time caretaking role at home (men or women) find this period particularly hard. Think about it, for many parenting is a full-time job. Imagine one day suddenly becoming redundant from a job you have been working so hard at for almost two decades. You might find even when you’re surrounded by your friends and family, it might feel like there’s still something missing.
Weight Gain or Weight Loss
Whether you’re one of those women who emotionally eat or you are one of those women who lose their appetites completely, with any emotional upheaval weight gain or weight loss is a common symptom. You might have found that now when you gain a few pounds they go to your waist and hips, instead of getting evenly distributed all over your body. Your previous pear shape might be turning more into an apple shape. This is also (unfortunately) a symptom of the menopause. The lack of oestrogen in our bodies can shift how we carry weight. Try paying more attention to your diet at this time. It could always be just certain foods making you temporarily bloated and feeling off. Of course I always recommend regular exercise and healthy eating for most symptoms women face.
How to Cope With These Feelings
Remember how you were at this age. Remember how excited, nervous, confused and sometimes even scared you were of leaving home for the first time. This is most likely what they are going through as well. It might bring you some comfort to know that they probably miss home just as much as you miss them. However, this is an essential life event that is inevitable. All that is left for us now is to try to adjust to this new chapter in our life. You might even be sitting there wondering, what do I do with all this free time now?
You could take this as an opportunity to reconnect with your partner. Try planning a holiday with just the two of you, or even just a date night here and there. You could try out new hobbies or learning a new skill. Joining in a new team or group could bring a positive change in your life and help distract you from your own feelings and thoughts. Get together with your friends. Plan lunches and any other activities with them. It is vitally important however not to self-medicate at this time (take it from someone who knows) as it never really solves anything. See this as an opportunity to give yourself more self-love and self-care. This could even be a good time to give yourself time to deal with your menopause and any other symptoms you experience with it.
Meg Mathews Interviewed by Erica Fraser