Empty Nest Transitions: What Fuels Anxiety About Your Child Going to College?

The transition to an empty nest, often marked by the departure of a child to college, is a significant milestone in a parent’s life. While this is often portrayed as a time of newfound freedom and opportunity, it can also dredge up a range of complex emotions for parents, including anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty.

For many parents, sending their child off to college represents a profound shift in roles, identities, and daily routines. It might spark feelings of loss and apprehension about the future. Let’s explore empty nest transitions, and the link between anxiety and sending your child off to college.

Independence and Distance

University Students Walking Together
In many cases, when your child leaves for college it comes with a bit of distance. Less time spent with them, certainly—sometimes much less time. When your children are living on campus or attending an out of state institution, you’re forced to wonder from afar what their new life is like. That process of wondering comes with all sorts of fears:

  • Who are they hanging out with?
  • Are they happy?
  • Will they succeed on their own?
  • How safe are they being?

You may be used to watching having your fingers on the pulse of your children’s lives. It’s easy to feel as if you’re losing them, when you should be busy celebrating their achievements.

Identity and Anxiety

Your world has likely revolved around your children for quite some time. As they leave home for college, it’s natural to look around and feel as if you’re waking from a decades-long slumber. You may have trouble adjusting to their absence. It’s common for parents to undergo something of an identity crisis when the nest finally empties out, and for the first time in years there’s a chance to get to know yourself all over again.

Anxiety feeds on uncertainty, but what it craves desperately are answers. When those answers aren’t readily available, anxiety may start gnawing at you instead.

Changes in Relationships

Sometimes parenthood requires that you put your own needs on pause; especially if you have a partner, this is a sensitive time in any relationship. Many couples struggle to find a new dynamic that works for them, without the shared weight of raising the children day-in and day-out to help them bond.

It’s not surprising that this time in your life may cause you to re-appraise your goals in life. It can be terribly disruptive as you find the time, space, and motivation, to put yourself first again and pursue interests that you’ve left on hold for years. Old conflicts might flare back to life, bringing all sorts of stress and anxiety with them.


As a parent, you’ve likely had to put your friendships on the back burner at times to focus on raising your children. As a result, when your kids head off to college, you may find yourself feeling isolated and alone. Lots of parents orient their lives around their children’s interests and activities—and those relationships with other parents don’t always last once the kids are out of the picture.


You’re not alone if you’re struggling to navigate an empty nest. Most parents feel a profound mix of emotions. Anxiety, yes, but grief, sadness, and depression as well. Instead of being able to celebrate your child’s accomplishments you may find yourself struggling with guilt over your own feelings. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Your pain matters—being a parent doesn’t mean you stop having feelings. Reach out today to schedule an appointment for anxiety therapy. We can make a plan for you to conquer your anxiety about this new stage of life.