Some people attach a lot of stigma to homesickness. They see it as something that little kids get, and not as something that can, in fact, cripple some adults’ lives. However, recent research, and some recent high-profile cases of adult homesickness clearly show that this is not the case. According to the National Union of Scientists (cited by Ruth Hardy, the Guardian), 50 – 70 per cent of students in the UK suffer from homesickness. So, when you feel weepy and want to crawl into bed and hide just because you’ve seen a scruffy dog that reminds you of your pups back home, know that you are not alone.
One of the interesting things about homesickness is that it can strike at any time. Some people start feeling homesick weeks before they actually leave home. The anxiety about going away to university is enough to make them start missing the comfortable and familiar. Other people breeze through their first year only to find themselves homesick when they go back for the second.
Early onset is often (but not always) related to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. For example, people who doubt their ability to cope academically at university may become anxious before they leave. People with small social circles who battle to make friends easily may also start to worry about what they’ll do for company and support before they leave home.
Late onset usually occurs when people get over the novelty of the university experience. Sometimes this is after the first whirlwind semester, when everything has been done for the first time and reality sets in. Some students get a face full of reality when exams don’t go as well as expected and the enormity of the next three or four years sinks in.
Don’t ignore it, and you’ll get over it
Despite the fact that it’s so common, not many people talk about homesickness. They pretend that everything is fine and muddle through. Hoping that something unpleasant will go away doesn’t always work, however; so here are four healthy copy strategies that you can use to get over your homesickness, regardless of whether you started getting those anxious I’m-not-so-sure-about-this feelings before you packed your bags, or whether you made it three-quarters of the way before rethinking the wisdom of being so far from home.
1. Take home with you
Homesickness doesn’t always have to do with your actual home; instead it’s about missing what’s familiar. Surround yourself with familiar things from home and you’re less likely to feel displaced. Take your favourite duvet and pillow. Take loads of photos of family, friends, pets, and even favourite locations (like the diner where you and your friends hangout, or the pond in the park where you like to sit and watch the ducks).
Make your room as comfortable, homely and home-like as possible and it won’t remind you of all the things that are missing.
2. Now get out
Even though you have a truly awesome room, you don’t want to become so immersed in your home-away-from-home that you don’t want to leave. What were the things that you loved to do at home? Did you volunteer at the animal shelter? Did you take walks in the suburbs? Did you go to movies? Did you people watch from coffee shops? Did you play tennis?
Transfer those things to your new home. Find the local shelter and make yourself indispensible. Become so familiar with your neighbourhood that you can navigate by the feel of the cracks underneath your feet. Join the movie club. Put all the coffee shops to the test until you find the perfect blend. Join the tennis club.
You can still do all of the things that you love even though you aren’t at home. And the nice thing about getting out is that you’ll meet new (and probably interesting) people. You don’t even have to try, if you’re worried about your social skills (or lack thereof), if you put yourself out there, it all happens naturally.
3. Keep the lines of communication open, but not wide open
Modern life means that we’re never really out of touch. Skype, Facebook, texting – all keep us close to the people who are most important in our lives. So use them. If you miss your mom, send her a text about the lecture you just attended. But don’t go overboard.
According to Dr. Josh Kaplow, clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, you will need to sever some emotional ties. He says that getting over homesickness is about learning to live differently. It’s about finding your own routines and your own ways of doing things.
In the beginning, you may find yourself texting your family several times a day and perhaps calling them at least once. And that’s ok. But if you’re still doing it six months into the year, you might have a bigger separation problem on your hands. Try weaning yourself off your daily family fix as soon as possible.
4. Get into your head
Monitor your internal monologue. What you say to yourself and how you say it can keep you trapped in negative thoughts and emotions. For example, you’re not doing yourself any favours if you say to yourself, “You stupid idiot, I can’t believe you still can’t find your way around the campus. How long is it going to take you to settle down and get a grip?”
Compare it to: “Oops, you got lost again. No worries, tomorrow we’ll take the afternoon off and explore all the roads on the campus and draw a map we know we’ll understand.”
It sounds a little nuts, but treat yourself like a friend. Would you use the first monologue on a friend, or would you be gentle with the second?
Start being gentle with yourself, cut yourself some slack and try phrase your thoughts positively rather than negatively.
If you’re really struggling to find anything positive in your situation, if leaving your room is a task too monumental to contemplate, if you can’t stop crying, or you can’t attend lectures, or you think that drinking your way through a case of beers a night is the only way to cope – get help.
Universities have counselling and support systems that are geared towards helping students cope with everything that university life has to throw at them. Avail yourself of these facilities and do it sooner rather than later.