So what is homesickness? Why am I experiencing it?
Homesickness is the distress caused by being away from home. People who are homesick often have preoccupying thoughts of home and attachment objects. Sufferers typically report a combination of depressive and anxious symptoms, withdrawn behaviour and difficulty focusing on tasks. In the case of students, this can be difficulty focusing on University work.
The problem is that many students tend to judge themselves harshly because they think that they should be able to cope. Homesickness is not a sign of weakness. You might be surprised as to how many other students feel like you do. Yet, homesickness can be astonishingly de-skilling. Work and concentration may not come easily.
Moving away for university is a big transition, whether you've come from the other side of the world or half an hour down the road.
Here are some ways you can avoid feeling homesick, or help deal with it if you’re already experiencing it:
- Understand what homesickness is and don't feel bad about having it - Feeling homesick isn't a weakness, nor is it something you should beat yourself up about. Missing home is something that affects most students – you'll only make the situation worse if you think of it as something you should feel guilty about.
- Don’t spend too much time in your room alone - It might be tempting to treat your room as your own little safe haven, but staying in too much will only serve to make you feel worse. Isolating yourself will make your feelings more intense, as you'll spend even more time pondering on what you miss. Try to keep yourself busy by taking part in social activities, studying at the library rather than in your room, getting a part-time job or even trying out some extracurricular activities.
- Keep your expectations realistic - One of the biggest myths about university is that every day is like a wild party where you enjoy minimal responsibilities and get drunk most nights of the week. For most, this is not the case. Try to be realistic in what you expect from university and work out ways to improve your experience if it's not quite what you wanted. Uni is what you make it – if there's something you're not happy with, it's down to you to do something about it!
- Bring home comforts - Bringing something that reminds you of your room, or something that brings you a sense of comfort from home can be a big help. Whatever your comfort things are, make sure you bring them to uni with you! Having a sense of comfort and familiarity may help you settle in quicker.
- Stay positive - Of course, this can be a lot easier said than done, but making a concerted effort to carry a positive attitude around with you will help you to combat homesickness in a major way. Plan things into your day that you enjoy doing and can look forward to, whether it's socialising with friends or a nice hot bath and episode of Bake Off. Staying positive also makes you a pleasure to be around, so you'll probably find it much easier to make new friends (which also helps to keep homesickness at bay).
- Ask for help - The jump from school to university can be tough to get your head around at first, and there's no shame in asking for help. If you're having any issues with your course, or anything else for that matter – don't suffer in silence. If you're feeling homesick, worrying about your studies or your finances will only make things worse, so take steps to sort any issues out or get support as soon as they arise. As well as approaching your lecturers directly, you'll also find that universities have counselling service available too – use them, that's what they're there for!
- Explore your surroundings - One of the main reasons we feel homesick is often to do with being in unfamiliar surroundings, so it's a great idea to set aside some time to explore your uni town or city so you'll feel more at home. Go for walks, do some sightseeing, volunteer with the local community or just get to grips with what's available on your uni campus. You're only around for a few years, so now's the time to make the most of it!
- Keep in touch (but not too much) - Whether it's a phone call, a Whatsapp group chat or a letter in the post, keeping in touch with your friends and family helps to close that gap and make you feel more part of things back home. However, the other side of the coin is that keeping in touch too much can actually make you feel that distance more! The trick is to not let it get to the stage that you're communicating with people back home more than you are with people at uni. Remember you need to be doing fun stuff in between as well so you have something to tell people back home all about!
- Keep healthy - When you're feeling rubbish it can be tempting to lie on the sofa watching RomComs crying into a massive tub of Ben and Jerry's, but this is likely to make you feel a lot worse. Keeping healthy (and fighting off that freshers' flu) will help to keep you feeling much more positive about life – it's all about that positive cycle!
Finally, remember there's always help out there. If you're struggling with your mental health there are services available at the university which are free to access.
What to do if nothing works
If you’re well into your first year and still feeling homesick and unsettled, you may be thinking you’ve made a mistake in coming to university. Don’t rush into any decisions about leaving, as things could still improve, but do talk it over with a tutor, student welfare officer, or counsellor. It may help to speak to a family member or friend back home about this too,
They’ll help you to clarify your feelings and get things in perspective, but they shouldn’t put pressure on you to stay at university if it’s really not the right place for you.
For a few students, it can be right to leave and take another direction.
Typical physical and emotional symptoms:
- loss of concentration
- crying and sadness
- difficulties in sleeping or eating
- waves of emotion
- disrupted menstrual cycle
- nausea, headaches or dizziness
- trembling, and feeling either too hot or too cold
Typical thought patterns:
- I miss my friends so much
- I need to get home, or at least phone home as often as I can
- I want to be with my family
- I am not coping with looking after myself
- I hate having to live with people I don’t know
- I do not know who I am here
- People here really do not like me
- It’s like prison. I don’t belong here
- I want to cry especially when I am by myself
- Everyone else seems fine. Why am I the odd one out?
If you are struggling with homesickness and find that it is starting to affect your mental health, you can contact the Counselling and Wellbeing team in Student Support. You can contact them by visiting them in person for the Wellbeing Walk-in that takes place Monday-Friday between 3:00pm-3:45pm. You can also contact them using the following contact information:
Telephone – +44 (0)29 2087 4844
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Please feel free to come and see an adviser in Student Advice if you would like to talk about options available to you.