School Leavers

Navigating the waves of homesickness

Why does homesickness happen?

Homesickness can occur for many reasons, and recognising these triggers is the first crucial step in effectively managing your feelings. Understanding the roots of your homesickness can empower you to navigate through it with greater resilience and self-awareness. It's a complex emotion that can surface due to various factors, such as distance from loved ones, unfamiliar surroundings, cultural differences, or a sense of disconnection from your usual routine and comfort zone. By pinpointing the specific triggers that contribute to your homesickness, you can develop strategies to address them and ultimately create a more comforting and enriching experience in your new environment. Remember, homesickness is a natural part of the human experience, and with the right tools and support, you can not only cope with it but also grow stronger through the process of adapting to change.

1.Change and Transition

One of the most significant causes for homesickness is the dramatic change and transition that accompanies the start of university. You're abruptly put into an entirely new environment, often far from the safety net of your family home. This shift can feel like a disruption in your life, as you leave behind the familiar comforts of your hometown, childhood friends, and family. In this uncharted territory, the absence of your usual support system can be overwhelming, igniting a deep yearning for the warmth and security of your well-known surroundings.

2.Social Disconnection

Leaving behind close friends and family can lead to feelings of social disconnection. When you embark on this new chapter in life, you're inevitably leaving behind the closest network of friends and family that you've nurtured over the years. These cherished bonds, once a major part of your daily life, are now stretched across distances, and this separation can trigger a profound feeling of isolation. The absence of familiar faces and the comforting embrace of loved ones can leave you longing for the laughter, support, and shared experiences that once defined your social circle. It's during moments of unfamiliar social settings that the longing for those relationships becomes most immense. The prospect of forging new connections can be daunting, especially when you're navigating a new environment or culture.

3.Comfort and Unfamiliarity

The comfort of home, from mum's cooking to your cosy bedroom, can be a daunting contrast to the unfamiliarity of your new living space. The bed doesn't feel quite right, the food doesn't taste the same, and the daily rhythm of life has been completely overturned. These stark differences can amplify the desire for the familiar and make the absence of home more detectable.

By understanding the root causes and acknowledging your feelings, you can implement coping strategies to help navigate the waves of homesickness.

What to do when you feel homesick

Now that we've identified and comprehended some common reasons behind homesickness, let's embark on the journey of implementing effective coping strategies to help you manage these emotions and maximise your university experience. Coping strategies are essential tools that can provide you with the resilience and inner strength needed to thrive in your new environment. These strategies encompass a range of techniques and practices tailored to address the varied aspects of homesickness, including:

1.Staying connected with family and friends

In today's digital age, technology has revolutionised the way we can stay connected with loved ones, making it easier than ever to maintain those vital connections even when separated by great distances. Regular video calls, heartfelt texts, and comforting phone calls can bridge the physical gap between you and your cherished family and friends. These modern tools allow you to share your experiences, thoughts, and emotions in real-time, providing a sense of intimacy that can be incredibly comforting during moments of homesickness.

2.Creating a home away from home

One effective strategy for combating homesickness is to transform your new living space into a warm and inviting haven that feels like a genuine extension of your home. Personalising your accommodation can be a powerful way to achieve this. By adorning your space with items that hold sentimental value or remind you of home, you can infuse it with a sense of familiarity and comfort that eases the pangs of homesickness. Consider decorating your living area with cherished photographs of family and friends, bringing their smiling faces into your daily life. Houseplants can add a touch of nature and life to your surroundings, evoking the sense of tranquillity that your home might provide. Soft, warm LED lights can create a cosy ambiance that's beneficial for relaxation and peace.

3.Establishing a routine

Establishing a daily routine can be a stepping stone of stability and a source of comfort. This structured approach to your day helps to provide a sense of order and control, which can be particularly valuable in reducing homesickness. When you craft a routine, consider allocating time for essential activities such as study, exercise, and relaxation. These components are like the pillars of your day, providing structure and purpose. Devote specific hours to your academic pursuits, ensuring that you stay on track with your studies while also fostering a sense of accomplishment. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine, whether it's a morning jog, yoga, or a visit to the gym. Physical activity not only boosts your physical well-being but also releases endorphins, which can enhance your mood and reduce feelings of homesickness. Equally crucial is the time you set aside for relaxation and self-care. This is your opportunity to unwind, indulge in hobbies, or simply enjoy moments of solitude. Reading, meditation, or engaging in creative activities can offer relief and rejuvenation.

4.Explore your surroundings

One of the most transformative ways to combat homesickness is to venture out and explore your new surroundings. Rather than allowing yourself to be confined by the boundaries of your living space, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the broader community that now surrounds you. Begin by familiarising yourself with your campus, learning the layout of the buildings, and discovering hidden study spots or scenic locations where you can unwind. Explore the nearby shops and restaurants, not only for practical purposes but also as a way to connect with the local culture. Finding your go-to lunch spots or cafes can make your new environment feel more like home. By immersing yourself in your new community, you'll gradually build a sense of belonging and attachment.

5.Practice self-care

Amidst the challenges of adapting to a new environment, it's crucial to prioritise self-care as a means of nurturing your physical and emotional well-being. The demands of change and homesickness can take a toll on your health, making it all the more essential to dedicate time to self-care activities that restore balance and resilience. Don't underestimate the power of pursuing hobbies and activities that bring you joy. Whether it's painting, playing a musical instrument, reading, or any other passion, immersing yourself in activities you love can be a therapeutic escape from homesickness. These moments of creative expression and enjoyment can remind you of your individuality and provide a sense of accomplishment. Above all, remember that self-care isn't selfish; it's an essential component of maintaining your overall well-being. By taking care of your physical and emotional needs, you're better equipped to cope with the ups and downs of adjusting to a new environment.

The abrupt shift from the familiarity of home to the challenges of a university environment, coupled with the academic pressures and social adjustments, can trigger a range of emotional struggles that impact the mental health of students. Shedding light on recognising, addressing, and supporting the emotional well-being of university students during this pivotal life transition is important as beneath the veneer of excitement and anticipation lies a distinct reality.

According to The Office for National Statistics, 37% of first-year students surveyed in England at a university have symptoms of depression and anxiety. In the same survey, 21% of first year students reported that they had engaged with mental health services since September 2020. Students in higher education are typically at an age that is vulnerable to developing mental illness. Three-quarters of those with a mental illness first have symptoms before their mid-20s. The peak of onset for most disorders is between the ages of 18 and 25.

Maintaining a positive aspect on mental health is crucial in today’s world, as it profoundly influences every aspect of our lives. Mental health can impact our thoughts, actions, and interactions. It empowers us to navigate challenges, build meaningful relationships, and make informed decisions.

Caring for our mental health not only enhances our day-to-day functioning but can also play a significant role in mitigating certain physical health issues associated with mental health conditions. Consider the relationship between stress and heart disease, where effectively managing stress can submit positive effects on heart health and promote a healthier overall lifestyle.

“Our mental health is something that impacts our eating and sleeping habits and has a lot to do with our physical health as well. It is important to address our mental health needs, or oftentimes we feel the impact of it in other areas of our health as well.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Embracing Growth and Resilience

Remember that homesickness is a natural and shared part of the university experience. It's an emotion that transcends cultural backgrounds and geographic distances, touching the lives of countless students embarking on similar journeys. While it may present its own set of challenges, it's crucial to view homesickness as more than just a hurdle; it's an invaluable opportunity for personal growth and the cultivation of resilience.

In a book written by Talita Ferrera, M.S ‘Understanding Homesickness: A review of the Literature’, she states “This article provides a review of the research literature related to the experience of homesickness among college students. Research-based findings of the symptomatology of homesickness, risk factors that increase vulnerability to experiencing this psychological phenomenon, and the effectiveness of treatment strategies aimed at reducing symptoms of homesickness are examined within this literature review…”

“As previously suggested, cognitive symptoms of homesickness can potentially develop into pervasive mental health issues. Emotional and psychological disturbances represented through depressive mood, loneliness, and anxiety are found in sufferers from homesickness. In particular, seminal work by Fisher and Hood (1987, 1988), and Fisher, Murray, and Frazer (1985) have found that homesick university students are more likely than non-homesick counterparts to exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression. The psychological disturbances associated with homesickness, particularly in the form of depression, have been witnessed across cultures, age groups, and gender.“

Why not delve deeper into the contents of this ebook to unlock a more comprehensive understanding of homesickness? By doing so, you can equip yourself with valuable insights and strategies to navigate this common emotional experience effectively.

To Conclude

In facing homesickness head-on, you're not just coping with an emotional struggle; you're actively strengthening your ability to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations. This period of adjustment can be likened to a crucible in which essential life skills are forged. You learn to navigate uncertainty, build self-reliance, and develop a deeper understanding of your own emotions and needs.

Consider navigating homesickness as an integral chapter in your university journey. By gaining insight into its root causes and proactively implementing coping strategies, you not only conquer the waves of homesickness but also discover the capacity to thrive in your new academic and personal environment. Embrace this phase of your life with an open heart, knowing that, in doing so, you'll emerge stronger, more self-assured, and more resilient than ever before. With each challenge you overcome, you're not only progressing academically but also nurturing your personal growth and evolving into a more adaptable and confident version of yourself, well-equipped to face the future with courage and resilience.

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