“Homesickness was terrifying. I didn’t expect to miss home," Josh recalled. "And I think that’s what made it hardest. It wasn’t the feelings of homesickness, but it was the fact I was that made me feel weird and out of place.”
It’s not a question of if you’ll be homesick at college — everyone is. The question is more where will you fall on the spectrum of homesickness. For some people, it's a few bad days or a few moments each day. For others, it can be more persistent.
Whether yours (or your kid’s) is mild or severe there are plenty of things you can do to battle homesickness. Josh’s strategy?
“I got out of my lonely dorm room and made sure I did things that brought me joy with people who did the same.”
Here are some other strategies that can help:
Know that homesickness is normal.
As Josh mentioned, it’s a disorienting sensation. Especially if you’re typically a roll-with-the-punches kind of person, it can be surprising if homesickness hits you hard. There are so many changes though! Nearly every single thing is different: the food, the people, your routine, even the weather might be different than home.
So when you think about it, it would be strange not to feel at least a little homesickness. Know that you will feel uncomfortable for a bit but that everyone else is feeling that way too — even if they’re hiding it well. You’re not alone.
Author and advice columnist Harlan Cohen has a great TEDx Talk about getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Build a life where you are.
Matt describes his approach to beating homesickness as ‘dropping anchor.’ What Matt needed was, “to be grounded in friends, studies, activities, etc.
"My freshman year was tough and I was homesick," Matt recalled. "I never would have admitted it at the time (because dudes don't get homesick), but I was profoundly so. What helped was making friends, joining student government, performing stand-up, etc. It kept me busy, and made me connect with people on a deeper level.”
What Matt describes is a really smart strategy: keep busy with things that will help you form friendships that will grow over time. Getting involved in campus ministry, student activities, or connecting with people in your dorm or major can all help.
Keep comfort items that connect you with home.
Having some things from home can be really nice on those hard days. Rachel has some good tricks.
“This sounds silly, but I have the little jar that my mom kept q-tips in when I was a kid with me. It lives in my bathroom now," Rachel says. "It’s nothing special, it’s just the fact that it was hers when I was a kid. There are small things like that all over my life [away from home].
Rachel also finds comfort in her earring collection. When she's missing a specific person, she'll wear earrings gifted to her from that person, and she'll "have a little piece of them" with her all day.
Books, a favorite mug, pillow, or sweatshirt, even a stone or coin from home to keep in your pocket can help. Leah, for example, brought her Harry Potter books with her to college. Leah adds, “I knew my mom was a text away. It’s easier once you get into a routine.”
And speaking of routines...
... get one.
Leah said having a routine helped her: “It keeps your brain focused on something other than being homesick. That was helpful all four years. I like routine. It makes my brain feel better.”
There’s actually a scientific reason for why routine makes our brains feel better. One of the things that happens with college (or any kind of change really) is being overwhelmed by choices. Studies show that the brain gets worn out from all that newness and extra decision making. Creating a routine prevents overtaxing your brain with excess decision making.
Do a few things the same way everyday-wake up time, like getting breakfast or lunch in the same place, exercise, or study time. It will reduce the number of choices you have to make in the day and give your overtaxed brain a break.
If you can, put off going home.
“My freshman year, even though I wanted to go to a school a few hours away, I got homesick pretty quickly. I asked my parents to let me come home for a weekend when I had only been away for a few weeks - they pushed that weekend off for another month, meaning I'd be home for a big family holiday," Rich recalls. "And while it was great going home, it forced me to take more time to feel comfortable at school, which helped immensely.”
Having a target date to look forward to is good. At the same time, make it far enough out, like Rich did, that you’ve spent several weekends building friendships and getting to know your campus.
Call home, but not too often. Hearing those voices all the time can make you miss them more. Make sure you’re balancing that out with time with new friends and activities.
Take good care of yourself.
It’s easy to forget the basics. If you’ve been feeling low, keep an eye on your sleeping, eating, and activity habits for a few days. Messed up sleep patterns make everything harder to handle.
It can be a vicious cycle: you’re feeling sad so you’re not taking care of yourself which makes you feel worse. If you have a history of mental health issues, eating disorders, or any kind of trauma, the college transitions can be a bigger challenge for you.
You can do it! But know that you should be extra gentle with yourself and vigilant about self-care.
69 percent of first year students report feeling homesick. For most people it passes but it can be persistent or come around again during high stress times. If you find yourself unable to function or you’re feeling like you might hurt yourself, talk to someone – your parents, RA, chaplain, people at the health center or counseling center. You shouldn’t have to handle things alone.
Homesickness can be a big challenge. Try to keep in mind that eventually, it will get better! Until it does keep busy, take good care of yourself, and make new connections!