When people think about what it means to feel ‘homesick’, they often think of how it is portrayed (or rather, romanticised) in movies and TV shows; a character experiences a brief feeling of sadness as they think of their home, before quickly adapting to their new surroundings and eventually forget their homesickness. In reality, homesickness can be a long-lasting and distressing experience for many people and it can have a profound effect on an individual’s mental health.
Before I went to university in September of 2020, I had never spent more than a week away from my parents and never more than 3 weeks away from my home in Devon. Moving into my halls of residence in Newcastle city centre, I felt excited and ready to meet new people and create new memories; the possibility of feeling homesick had not passed my mind.
For the first 5 weeks I was kept busy studying and going on nights out; that is, until Halloween when the PM announced a second national lockdown. It was then that I felt all the anxious and irrational thoughts that I experienced in the first lockdown come flooding back; I booked a train ticket home and did not return to my university accommodation until early December.
From then on, every time I had to spend time away from home at university, I suffered regular panic attacks and a crippling anxiety that ultimately prevented me from being able to focus on my studies. I no longer felt that I could cope with being away from my family and friends in Devon and I spent the rest of the year studying from home.
Although I tried to combat my homesickness, nothing seemed to work; speaking to my family on facetime made me feel worse and I felt completely isolated. When my first year at university eventually ended, I was able to spend time reflecting on my mental health, and I was also lucky enough to meet some lovely people from my course who agreed to renting a flat together in September. Since living in our flat, I have had no more panic attacks and I am able to cope with my anxiety and homesickness in a much healthier way.
Starting out, I read many articles and papers about anxiety caused by homesickness, which helped me rationalise my thoughts and feelings and understand that I was not alone in my struggle. For example, extreme homesickness is not as uncommon as it seems; footballer Jesus Navas’ career was greatly affected by homesickness, to the extent in which he was unable to play for Spain as the training camps were far too away from his home and family in Seville.
I also spoke to other friends and family members, who reassured me that anxiety was normal and something they too had experienced, particularly during the recent pandemic. If you find it difficult to talk about mental health with others face-to-face, writing down your thoughts and emotions can also be a positive activity that can help you reflect on your mental health. Psychologist Dr Gary Wood explains that writing down three things you are grateful for and three things you are looking forward to each night can help you de-stress and take time to process your thoughts.
Furthermore, when I was living away from home, I found that establishing a daily self-care routine helped me relax and momentarily silence my anxious thoughts. Whether it be painting your nails, using skincare, watching your favourite movie or taking a walk, self-care is an effective way of helping you focus on the small things that bring you comfort, no matter the environment you are in.
Although it can seem impossible at times, try not to listen to the anxious and irrational part of your brain that prevents you from feeling safe and happy. I often felt that I could not function being away from my family during my first months away from home. However, I eventually found a way to cope with homesickness and adapt to new environments. Although I still occasionally experience anxiety, I have learned to accept that I sometimes struggle with my mental health, which is absolutely okay, and have developed ways of coping with it.
Extreme homesickness can be distressing and it can affect your ability to stay calm and focused away from home. Nevertheless: there are ways to overcome it. Most importantly, you should always be aware that you are not alone in whatever you might be struggling with and it is always okay to ask for help.