How to deal with homesickness in college
Most students feel homesick from time to time. So what can you do to manage it better?4 min read Published: 11 May 2023
We all experience homesickness from time to time. So what exactly is it, and how can we feel better when we get it?
Homesickness is the emotional distress we experience when we're in an unfamiliar environment and yearning for home. It can be experienced by anyone from any background, but it's particularly common among students.
The cause of homesickness may include a blunt change to lifestyle and routines, distance from familiar culture, struggling to adapt to change and a fear of not belonging.
In this article we’ll take a look at the impact homesickness can have, how common it is and what you can do to feel better.
What impact does homesickness have?
Research has found that when we get homesickness we may experience a combination of depressive and anxious symptoms, withdrawn behavior and difﬁculty focusing on topics unrelated to home. The latter is a particular concern for students, who are at college precisely to focus their attention on new topics.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that further research found homesick students are three times more likely to drop out than those who aren’t homesick. The same study also found homesickness resulted in difficulty concentrating and caused memory lapses, social isolation and neurotic behavior.
But homesickness can cause more than just psychological symptoms. Some research has found homesickness can even result in more physical complaints including sleep problems, appetite disruption, headaches, a higher risk of infection and gastrointestinal issues.
How common is homesickness at college?
If you’re currently experiencing homesickness at college, you’re not alone. It's a very common phenomenon.
One study published in 2020 looked at first year medical students in Southern India and found that 93% of those surveyed were homesick, the majority moderately so. Those whose family was located over 300 miles away were more likely to be homesick. The same study found a negative correlation between homesickness and academic performance.
Further research has found prevalence lower, at 60%. However, this study also found that the geographic distance of the move (along with the level of satisfaction with the new location) impacted homesickness.
Because many homesickness researchers have relied on retrospective self-reports, there is a wide-range of prevalence estimates.
However, in studies where researchers have measured homesickness when the person was actually in the new environment when questioned, a prevalence of 83% - 95% was observed. So it’s fair to say it is very common, likely experienced by the majority of college students.
That said, homesickness doesn’t affect everyone and it can vary in intensity. Research has found some people are more likely to experience homesickness than others. Risk factors for homesickness include studying internationally, being younger, little previous experience being away from home, social anxiety, high reliance on family members and having an insecure attachment to parents.
Tips for dealing with homesickness
Develop self compassion
One way to buffer yourself against the feelings of intense homesickness is to develop a self-compassionate mindset. Research has found this helps protect against homesickness even when a student is struggling with grades, friends and their overall decision to go to college.
In this context, self compassion is defined by three factors: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. And research has found that the students who cope with the transition to college by accepting that the way they feel is normal are less likely to be homesick.
Action: Not sure where to start? Kristin Neff, Associate professor at the University of Texas, is a self-compassion pioneer and you can access her guided practices for free.
Research has found students who make close friends they can confide in are less likely to become intensely homesick. This makes sense; we are highly social creatures, so developing a support network is an important step in feeling more connected to your new environment.
Action: Struggling to connect with your coursemates or housemates? Try joining a society or club. Most colleges have hundreds to choose from, so it’s highly likely you’ll find someone with a shared interest.
Choose healthy lifestyle habits
Research has found that substance abuse and sleep deprivation are common among college students. However, these are not healthy coping mechanisms and will ultimately lead to a worsening of the psychological distress associated with homesickness.
Action: Where possible, opt for healthier coping strategies such as exercise, nutritious food and adequate sleep.
Make yourself at home
Part of homesickness is a longing for familiar environments that you feel comfortable in. Until you find new versions of these, everywhere will feel new to you, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and overwhelm.
Action: Find a few new favorite spots either on campus or in your local neighborhood. It could be the library, a bench in a park or a local coffee shop. Commit to going regularly and it will soon start to feel familiar.
Access mental health support
If your homesickness feels severe or is having an intense or prolonged impact on your experience of college, you might want to seek professional support. Research on international students presenting with symptoms of homesickness and depression in Malaysia found they experienced a 'significant improvement in their mental health state' after just seven sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Action: Find out what mental health support is available at your college and ask how to access it.
Give it time
Above all else, normalize your feelings of homesickness and give yourself time to adjust. One study found that 94% of students felt homesickness during their first 10 weeks of college, but, on average, homesickness decreased over the first semester.
Action: Commit to normalizing your feelings and tell yourself you'll see how you feel at the end of the semester, after you've implemented some of the suggested tips for reducing homesickness.
Homesickness is experienced by all sorts of people and is very common, with around 80-90% of students experiencing it. Risk factors include studying abroad, being younger, having less experience being away from home, social anxiety, high reliance on family and having an insecure attachment to your parents.
Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to deal with homesickness and improve your experience of college. These include developing a self compassionate mindset, making new friends and choosing lifestyle habits that support your health and wellbeing. You can also help yourself settle into your new surroundings by finding new spaces you feel comfortable in, giving yourself adequate time to settle in and accessing mental health support if your homesickness feels unmanageable.
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