It’s quite hard to admit that even as an adult, you still get homesick. But it certainly happens, and after a year of living abroad I found myself in that exact situation. It was tricky because I knew that if I went home, then after a while I’d be back in the same routine and itching to get away again, but at the time it seemed like going home was the only thing that would satisfy me. I got stuck in a cycle of telling myself ‘I need to go back home, at least for a bit’. Have you felt the same? I bet that if you’ve been abroad for more than a few months you’ll have had this to varying degrees.
So while you can find loads of articles on ‘how to handle homesickness’, this article takes a more holistic, person-centred approach. The idea is that while there are some external things you can do (e.g. make some of your favourite dishes from home), really it’s an internal thing that needs a great deal of reflection, insight, and acceptance. So these are the things that work for me, and I’ve found more effective than the twenty-or-so other boring examples like ‘watch some television from your home country’.
1. Recognise that homesickness is a temporary feeling
When homesickness kicks in, it can be quite an overwhelming sensation. It’s also easy to feel like it won’t go away anytime soon, and the only solution is to go home as fast as possible.The problem is that making decisions based on emotion is usually not a good course of action to take!
It’s strange to hear, as we’re often told to trust our emotions. But emotions change and vary with time and circumstance. I’ve met people who’ve been suddenly gripped by homesickness, quit their jobs and booked a ticket back. They then realise, a few months down the line, that their decision was based mainly on the way that they felt at the time, and wasn’t the best choice long-term.
Homesickness is temporary. It comes and goes in waves, much like all emotions that we experience. Take some comfort in this, and remind yourself that you don’t have to make decisions straight away or immediately get back home. Accept how you’re feeling, but don’t despair. Remember it’ll lessen in intensity over time.
2. Pinpoint exactly what it is you’re missing. Ask why.
A study, reported in CNN, characterised homesickness as “distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.” So here comes another point for you to analyze and inspect. Try and brainstorm, on a piece of paper, exactly what it is about missing home that’s causing these feelings. That’s going to make it easier to take steps to combat it.
Rather than wallow in your own misery and end up making things worse, by pinpointing exactly what you miss, you can not only get a better idea of what you value in life but also take steps to deal with it. If, for example, the primary thing you miss is your family, take concrete steps to make sure you stay more in touch with them. Set up a regular Skype date, plan your next visit, or simply talk to them about it.
3. Remember home isn’t perfect and safety is boring
This might be more of a controversial one, but it’s quite often the case that what we’re really missing is security, routine, and a feeling of safety. Living in a new country, or a new place even, can be overwhelming at the best of times, and in many ways it is out of sync with what we’re naturally accustomed to. Only with the advent of modern travel have we been so readily able to go off and live in distant corners of the world.
I like to think about the fact that I’m missing the security and routine of home. Because I then start to remember that while there are things I love about that, there are also downsides. There’s the monotonous routine of getting up, going to work, coming home. And doing the same thing again in the same familiar surroundings. There’s the fact that I don’t get to try and experience new things day in, day out.
I’m not suggesting that you convince yourself home isn’t great, because it is and always will be. That said, you can recognise that, like I said before, it’s rarely as perfect as our imagination makes it out to be. Just like with that ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, that old apartment, or that first job. We often have a romanticized idea about our memories. Our mind dupes us into this, which magnifies our anxiety and upset at being away from our home.
So if you’re feeling homesick, it’s good to explore the feeling and really reflect on it. Ask yourself ‘and then what?’ and see where the trail of thought takes you. Will going home be the best thing for you, not just for the next month but for the next year? What will you do then? And will that make you feel better? Often, you’ll see that you have rose-coloured glasses about being back home, and you might find that actually returning is out of line with what you want from life and your future – it’s just a temporary, albeit strong, emotional response.
If however, you truly believe that your future is back in your home country, then homesickness is likely to be less of an issue. It’ll make more sense and you won’t have any conflicting feelings about leaving. If it’s really time to leave, you’ll know.
4. Don’t wrestle with it. Accept it.
Ok, so that sounds counterintuitive given what I’ve said up there. What I’ve said before though isn’t to ‘combat’ the feelings of homesickness by coming up with everything wrong with home, it’s about formulating a rational, sensible idea of what and why you miss home.
So instead of having your inner monologue that says ‘I miss home so much, I have to go back’, you replace that with healthier, more well-balanced thoughts, like ‘I miss home right now, but it’s not a permanent feeling. I recognise that there are things that I miss, but life isn’t perfect there either.’ Thinking this way is a more fair, and less misleading way of looking at the world.
You can accept that you feel sad, homesick, upset, lonely, or whatever else. You can tell yourself that it’s OK to feel this way. You don’t need to go doing a thousand and one things that remind you of home to ‘snap you out of it’, because it’s fundamentally a natural feeling that everyone experiences. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and don’t force yourself to go looking for external ways of ‘curing’ homesickness. Accept it and then continue with your day. Don’t forget to be kind and soothing to yourself too.
5. Keep your sense of perspective
Homesickness comes in waves. It will come and go, sometimes more extreme and intense, sometimes less so. In addition to that, you’ll also have days when you feel that your new home is the only place you’d want to be.
Keeping a sense of perspective is one of the most important things. In the meantime, when you’re feeling bad, be kind to yourself, be honest about what it is that’s making you feel homesick, and be realistic about what it is you’re missing, and what it is you might be telling yourself that’s not quite accurate about your situation.
In reality, much of the pain we experience from homesickness, among many other things, is caused by ourselves rather than our external circumstances. Keep in mind that you have the freedom to accept and deal with these feelings, and you’ll be a healthier, happier person. You still may feel homesick, but you’ll be able to cope with it in a better way, and have a better outlook on what exactly it means.
This is how I feel about homesickness. Remember that if you’re having trouble coping or are suffering with extreme distress, you should seek professional support from either a doctor or a mental health service. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about this, and you may need more than just an article to help you get back to normal. Here is a guide from Rice University on when to get help. If this applies to you, please seek it.