College Prep & The Empty Nest
There are a lot of emotions that come with starting a new chapter in life—whether it be as a student going away to college or a caregiver who now has an empty nest. These chapters all come with a change in schedule, routine, and personal environment. As challenging, exhausting, bittersweet, tearful, joyful, and celebratory this time can be, it can all go a little smoother with some preparation.
At CW Psychological Services in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, we frequently work with young adults as they transition to college and adulthood. We also work with caregivers and parents who are facing an empty nest. That is why our mental health professionals have put together these tools to help.
Building Your Mental Health Toolbox for College
Moving out of your home and into your own space at college is a huge change. You no longer have someone else guiding you on what to do, when to do it, or how to take care of yourself. Your time is now entirely up to you. That is a big responsibility and a whole lot of stress. Here are some ways to build your mental health toolbox and prepare yourself for the transition to college.
1.) Determine how you will practice self-care —
What can you do when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, and not yourself? What are some things you can fall back on? Maybe it is meditation, or going for a walk, calling a friend, meeting with a counselor or therapist, or taking a moment to breathe. List some things prior to going away so you are ready to go when the time hits.
2.) Practice a routine —
What time do you need to get up to make your first class of the day? How will you get there? What will you need to take with you? What about your second class? How will you move around campus? Thinking through these things ahead of time, and practicing, can help you feel more at ease.
3.) Nourish yourself —
It is easy to let go of healthy eating habits and fall into the spiral of fueling your body with junk. After all, no one is there to cook or clean for you. But eating junk all the time will make you feel crummy and thus make it harder to work through stress. Plan out some healthy foods to make and eat on the go.
4.) Plan to get sleep —
Partying and staying up late are part of the college experience, but they can backfire if done too often. Set some rules for yourself. Maybe make Friday and Saturday nights free nights, while sticking to a schedule the rest of the week.
5.) Have some self-soothing tools —
There may be times when you miss home or feel sad. Have some things you can use to help soothe you during these times. Maybe a photo of a pet, friends, a favorite book, a special blanket, essential oils, or a sketch pad will work for you.
Taking on the Empty Nest
Know that it is completely normal to experience a mix of feelings when your child leaves home—excitement, anxiety, grief, worry, and fear. Be prepared to take some time to decompress. Expect things to look, feel, and work differently in your life and around your home. You will probably have less laundry, fewer groceries to buy, minimal errands to run, and a lot more time. Your home may also feel unusually quiet and lonely. But, like with any change, you will adjust in time. Be patient with yourself.
1.) Determine ways you want to spend your time —
Is there a hobby you have always wanted to try? Or a personal goal you want to work towards? Maybe you want to read a certain number of books, try a fitness class, plant a garden, learn how to sew, etc. Step out of your comfort zone. You will be surprised how quickly your schedule can fill up.
2.) Channel grief into helping others —
Volunteering for a cause that has meaning to you can have a positive impact on you and those you are helping. It can be a great way to help you find meaning in your days and make you feel good.
3.) Make connections —
People thrive on connection. Set up lunch dates with friends, join community groups, and connect with other empty nesters who can understand your emotions. Such connections can help ease your fears and give you someone to lean on in tough times.
4.) Communicate —
If you have a partner, understand that you may not process these changes in the same way. Clearly and openly communicate your struggles and give each other some grace as you cope in your own way. Discuss expectations and goals for the future.
5.) Make plans for the future —
Your life is not over just because your home has fewer people in it. Make plans for the future. Set retirement goals, plan vacations with or without your children, and start thinking about plans for your home.
6.) Remember your relationship may look different but you are still a caregiver —
Parents and caregivers always maintain that role, even when they aren’t doing as much of the giving anymore. You can now embrace the friend role with your child and continue to be their number one cheerleader and emotional support system. You can still help to guide them but understand that they may not always choose to follow your advice.
Mental Health Help
If you or your child are struggling with the transition to college or an empty nest, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. There are a variety of tools and tips that can help you on this journey. Hard times don’t last forever and often they are stepping stones to a beautiful new journey.
Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?
Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online or telehealth therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call (610) 308-7575. We are here for you.