9 Ways to Help Homesickness
Homesickness at college will most likely lessen after that first semester away from home. Here's how to handle the separation anxiety.
By Lynn Yoffee
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Going to college can bring on many different emotions — it can be exciting, scary, fun, or even depressing. Most new students will experience some level of homesickness, a type of distress experienced when away from home for any extended period and technically known as separation anxiety.
"Homesickness is a normal experience for many college freshmen," says Larry Marks, PhD, psychologist at the University of Central Florida Counseling Center. "Usually the feeling lessens as the first semester goes on. Focusing on classes, making friends, and getting involved in campus activities will help with the transition. Cultural factors also should be considered, since moving away from home may not be a normal part of the developmental process in a particular individual's culture."
Homesickness and College: The Symptoms
While many college students experience homesickness, few students say it affects their studies. The 2008 American College Health Association's national survey of college students found that homesickness was a minor factor — just 4.2 percent — when it came to overall academic performance.
Still, it can and does affect many students. What does homesickness feel like? Here are some of the warning signs:
- Constantly thinking about home
- Decreased motivation
- Feeling different from others who seem to be having a good time
- Missing the people, things, and places associated with home
- A negative outlook
- Social withdrawal
- Wishing for a connection with someone who will make everything feel better
Don't confuse homesickness with depression; college students who are homesick will go home and find that their negative feelings lift. A person who is depressed won't experience this type of relief whether they go home for a few days or get involved in a favorite activity.
Homesickness and College: Steps to Feel Better
Here's what you can do to lift your mood while you adjust to college life:
- Realize homesickness is a normal feeling.
- Allow time to get used to your new home environment.
- Talk about your feelings with friends, family, a resident assistant, or counselor.
- Post pictures and things from home in your room.
- Make plans to visit home, keeping in mind that you will be returning to school.
- Get involved in campus activities.
- Don't ignore your feelings or try to drown them by drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or participating in any type of risky behavior.
- Learn what helps you relax — it might be deep breathing exercises, music, or exercise.
- Be realistic when it comes to your expectations about college. Remember that you must relax and play a bit in addition to studying, or you'll burn out. Structure your time and work toward finding a healthy balance.
Anticipating and planning for homesickness is one way to handle it. "I think it is a good idea for students to plan when they will visit home at the beginning of the semester," Marks says. "Depending on how far away home is, traveling home may not be able to happen that often.”
A few college students may find that their homesickness is overwhelming and want to bolt for home. “When the sad and distressing feelings seem to get worse and do not go away, even after trying the strategies to feel better, returning home or transferring to a school closer to home may be a worthwhile consideration,” says Marks. “Talking through this decision with family, friends, or a counselor can help."
College and Homesickness: One Freshman’s Story
"Choosing an out-of-state school isn't always easy," says Anna Friedman, who just finished her freshman year at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. "Many high schoolers say they want to go to college out of state, as far away from home and their parents as possible. I chose a small school in the next state over and still experienced homesickness. Dorm food got old after the first two months. Sharing a bathroom wasn't the most glamorous thing and sometimes all I wanted to do was have a home-cooked meal with my family and sleep in my own comfortable bed. Since I was so close with my high school friends, I also had a very difficult time being away from them. I was very surprised at how homesick I was at times."
Friedman said that even though she was tempted to retreat home, she stuck it out. "Many kids drop out after a semester because they can't handle being away from home, but those who learn to cope will be better off. I'm glad I took a risk and chose an out-of-state school. I've learned how to get over my fears and make the best of my situation,” says Friendman.
Video: How to Deal with Homesickness in College | Freshman Survival Guide Day 21
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