Poetry and songs worldwide overflow with expressions of longing and sadness for a beloved home or homeland or for “the old folks back home,” those long familiar to us—even Homer’s Odyssey referenced homesickness.
Most of us are prone to homesickness when we are separated from the places and people who evoke these feelings of safety and certainty. That separation may result from a move or another change that disrupts the flows and familiarities of our day-to-day lives. It feels like grief because it is grief, for the loss of the comforts of home—however, we define home.
Many people experience homesickness when they move. It’s usually mild, including pangs of longing for a place or people and feelings of nostalgia. But it can also be an overwhelming emotion, cause stress, lead to depression, sleep disruption, or nightmares, and even produce panic attacks. Children are especially prone to homesickness because their sense of security, literally their whole world, is tied to their family and the physical space of their home. Young adults off to college or living away from home for the first time are also prone to homesickness.
It’s important to clarify that homesickness is not a mental illness and does not require treatment—though some people may benefit from therapy to help them adjust to new environments and circumstances, particularly if they find themselves lapsing into depression.
How to Deal With Homesickness
Homesickness has a lot to do with change and how well we can manage it in our lives. When you are feeling homesick because of a move, here are five things you can do to help regulate your emotions while giving yourself the best shot at adjusting to and even enjoying your new place:
Don’t stay in constant contact: Virtual communication platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime can help you feel connected to your loved ones when you can’t physically be together. But staying in too close contact can exacerbate your feelings of being cut off and lonely by constantly reminding you of what and whom you are missing. They may keep you so plugged into the place or people you moved away from that you fail to explore and meet people in your new place. To live mindfully, to fully occupy your present moment, you need to limit the degree to which you keep yourself actively involved in the day-to-day life of a place where you no longer live.
Explore: Get to know your new area by attending local events and exploring places of interest.
Avoid isolating yourself: Simply putting yourself in places where other people, such as a coffeehouse, can keep you from slipping into depression and isolation. Use Meetup and find other ways to meet people who share your interests.
Eat well and get the sleep you need: Failing to eat healthy, nutritious food, and get enough sleep, and keep a regular sleep schedule, can exacerbate feelings like sadness as well as seriously undermine your physical and emotional health.
My fifth suggestion is to understand that your sense of connection to the places and people who define home for you lies within yourself. It doesn’t require a physical place. You carry it with you, wherever you may be. You can draw on it whenever you need to remind yourself of your roots and rootedness. It can be the source of your best values and fondest memories. And you can take comfort and confidence from it as you adjust to all of the changes life inevitably brings.