Homesickness isn’t just for childhood sleepovers and summer camp. As we separate ourselves from home — at any age — we feel a longing for what is familiar and comfortable. Though homesickness is a form of grieving for what you’re leaving behind, it doesn’t mean that you’re not grateful or enthusiastic about what’s ahead.
In my experience, homesickness can strike at any moment, even though I’m now a college graduate living in a different state from my family. I’ve learned what works for me (long phone calls with my mom), but there are other remedies. I’ve asked my friends about how they’ve beaten homesickness — here’s what they told me.
Many people I polled about homesickness had a common suggestion: Stay busy and, if you can, do so outside! My friend, Mara, told me, “Get out of the house! When homesickness is hitting you hard, go grocery shopping, go to a movie or to your favorite store. Small interactions with other people and places can help distract.”
When I first started college, I missed my friends from high school terribly because they now lived almost nine hours away. During my first few weeks of school, we had frequent Skype sessions and email chains. Although I loved keeping up with them, it didn’t take long to realize that I was shutting myself in my dorm room instead of taking in the new things around me.
So I began to seek out bonding with people at college, especially by doing things outside — taking late night campus walks, going camping in the Ozarks, and even just planning a day at the pool. I joined a theater group and began bonding with my suitemates — all of those connections started to counterbalance the longing and sadness I was feeling about life at home.
Taking time to put my attention and efforts into other activities didn’t make my friends from home any less important — my capacity to try new things and make new friends simply expanded. Focusing your attention elsewhere doesn’t betray how much you love and appreciate your home. Rather, it can create space to grow and put down roots somewhere new.
Surround yourself with comfort
Removing reminders of home isn’t going to suddenly make us feel less homesick. Rather than avoiding things that remind you what you miss for fear it’ll make your homesickness worse, try embracing them.
Anna told me, “I feel like the best way to deal with homesickness, especially if you’re split between two faraway places, like during college, is to always have home with you. I have so many Minnesota shirts, hats, and photos in my room at school. When I miss home, I wear a Vikings shirt and talk to people about home.”
Another friend, Jamie, agreed, told me, “I still feel extreme homesickness for family and friends when I’m not there. What really helped me was finding things that connected me with home — the easiest of which was food! Whether 20 minutes away or traveling overseas, finding food that I could associate with home always makes me feel more comfortable.”
Whether it’s food, a favorite sweatshirt, a framed photograph of your family, or even a special candle, embrace what you love about home and keep it present in your life in whatever way you find most appropriate.
Engage, don’t escape
Homesickness is not something to be embarrassed about. It can be draining and make you feel antisocial or just kind of blah. The first step is to acknowledge how you are feeling — then you can begin to cope with those feelings.
Self-care looks different for everyone. Giving yourself time to be by yourself to process your experience can be a good idea, and you might even think about adding a practice of prayer or journaling. Your prayer could include both the people and places where you came from and the situation of your new context.
Sometimes, embracing the familiar helps. Mara suggested a Netflix show you’ve seen a million times or a Spotify playlist that takes you to a certain place. A soothing bath, cooking a favorite meal, working out, or even just going for a walk can be great ways to take some time for yourself when homesick feelings pop up.
Volunteer service can be an effective way to change your perspective. Think about serving food at a soup kitchen and spending time with people who are homeless, for example — those connections could help you look at your relationship with home differently. Service can put your sadness in contact with the suffering of others, and the relationships you build there can be a support on both sides.
And don’t forget to draw on your support network — you don’t need to hide your feelings from friends and family. Put yourself in their shoes — if they were feeling homesick, you’d want to hear from them so that you can offer support in your own way. They want to do the same. You might feel lonely, but you are not alone. Use technology to your advantage — people in decades past haven’t had such easy access to loved ones.
Finding a home within yourself
Over time, homesickness fades, especially as you become acclimated to your new environment. After high school, Olivia experienced this, telling me, “The problem with moving away from the home you grew up in is that you find a new home. When I’m at school, I miss Minnesota. When I’m in Minnesota, I miss school. In a sense, I’ve learned to make a home within myself (I know that’s cheesy) and with the people I’m with, no matter what physical space I’m actually in.”
If you’re homesick, know you’re not alone. Missing a place just means that it has had a profound impact on you, which is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, feeling homesick is a way to honor where you came from. Just like grieving, there’s no standard time that feeling homesick should last — it’s a unique process for everyone. It could pose a problem, though, if it holds you back from moving forward in other areas of your life.