Gareth Hughesis the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well
It’s common to feel homesick at university, but there are things you can do to help you settle in.
Homesickness is a common experience for many students, who leave home to go to university – irrespective of age or previous experiences.
Usually homesickness gradually disappears over a few weeks. But there are things you can do to help it go, so you can settle into university and enjoy your experience more quickly.
What is homesickness?
Homesickness happens when someone leaves their previous home life for a new environment.
Different people have their own unique experiences of homesickness but generally, it causes feelings of sadness, anxiety and distress and is usually accompanied by lots of thoughts about your previous home and a longing to return to your previous life.
Why do I feel homesick?
There are generally three elements that make up the overall feeling associated with homesickness.
1. Missing home
If you’re feeling homesick, you probably miss home and the people there who you know, love and care about. It is normal and understandable to miss the people who matter to us.
The people you miss are also the people you would likely turn to when you feel upset. This might make it harder for you.
We also miss things that are familiar to us. You might find yourself missing your room, furniture or the view from a window. Again, this is completely normal. We grow to like and become attached to things that we see a lot. When these things aren’t around it is natural to miss them.
2. The new environment
Just as we like things that are familiar, if the environment is strange to us that can put us on alert, making us feel anxious and/or uncomfortable. This can be tiring and can also disrupt our sleep, and the ability to relax and enjoy university.
From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense. When we used to live in the wild, this instinct made us wary of things we didn’t know and that could be dangerous.
Of course, you aren’t living in the wild now, but it may take you a while to relax into your new surroundings.
Our distress about feeling distressed
Many students are surprised by just how much they miss home and how overpowering their emotions can be. As a result, they worry that there is something seriously wrong or that they must not be equipped to handle being at university. In turn, this makes them more distressed.
How can I feel less homesick?
There are a few steps you can take to reduce the impact of homesickness. Try a few of these strategies: generally doing a number of small things will be more effective than trying one big thing.
Accept how you're feeling
Accept that you are feeling homesick and this is ok. You aren’t weak, it doesn’t mean you won’t cope and it doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for university. It is a normal response to big changes and it will fade in time, as you get used to your new environment.
Feeling upset and tired may make you want to hide in your room. But this will usually lead to you feeling worse. Try to get out, meet people and stay active. This will speed up the process of making your new environment familiar, increase the chance you will build a new social network quickly and distract you from how you are feeling, while everything settles down.
Keep in touch with home. Reminding yourself that the people you miss are still there, and you can still contact them and speak to them, will help. Do try to balance your focus between home and your new environment, so you are focused on both.
Take care of your health
Take care of your health – eating healthily, getting some sleep, exercising and getting out in sunlight will help you manage your mood, maintain your energy levels and increase your feelings of competence and being in control.
Homesickness often fades when we feel useful to other people, so look for opportunities to help others. This can be a small thing, like giving someone directions or being supportive to a new friend who is also finding the transition difficult.
Try to keep perspective
Remember, nowhere is perfect. Our distress might mean that we remember all the good times at home and none of the other times. Try to keep a balanced view – home probably provided a mix of experiences and so will university.
If homesickness is causing you more distress that you feel you can manage or if it doesn’t fade over a few weeks, then access the support available at your university.