When home is far away, that sense of ease and belonging that so many people feel can transform into painful pangs of longing, commonly known as homesickness.
Contrary to popular belief, this yearning is not just felt by kids at summer camp — anyone of any age can experience it. Homesickness can manifest when you move to a new city, when you start college or even just when you’ve been away for a while.
Though it might be tempting to ignore feelings of homesickness, leaving them unchecked can actually be bad for your health.
Homesickness may take a toll on the emotional, behavioral and physical states of those it affects, according to a review of decades of research on homesickness published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Along with feelings of insecurity, loss of control and nervousness, physical effects, including sleep issues, fatigue and loss of appetite, have also been reported. We gathered a few psychologist-backed tips to help ease homesickness. Check them out below:
1. Realize that feeling homesick is 100 percent normal.
Almost everyone experiences homesickness when moving to a new place — some people might just be better at hiding it, according to Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
“Being homesick is not a sign of personal shortcoming,” Leary told The Huffington Post. “Realizing that homesickness is a normal and evolutionarily healthy reaction won’t make it go away, but it eliminates the self-criticism that people heap on themselves for not being able to handle the separation.”
2. Make connections with new people in comfortable settings.
While homesickness is a painful experience, you feel it for good reason. The painful longing to be with loved ones is actually a natural, human mechanism.
“Feeling homesick when separated from loved ones motivates people to want to be with those supportive people or else form new supportive relationships,” Leary said.
But keep in mind that everyone is different when it comes to forming those new relationships. Personality types, such as being an extrovert or an introvert, can inform how people bond, Leary said. When making new connections, it’s best to stick to the style that works for you in order to mitigate homesickness.
Introverts sometimes force themselves to meet new people in an “extroverted way,” such as going out to bars or mixers, Leary noted. Since pressuring yourself to go into uncomfortable situations can exacerbate homesickness, introverts may want to consider meeting people in a more comfortable setting, such as joining a book or outdoors club.
“Introverts sometimes berate themselves at their difficulty being outgoing, but it’s just an interpersonal style and not a flaw,” Leary said.
3. Practice self-compassion.
This point is crucial and also one of the hardest to accomplish. Self-compassion is defined as “treating oneself with the same kind of caring, concern and kindness that one conveys to loved ones who are facing difficult life situations,” according to a study Leary co-authored with fellow psychologists from Duke.
In other words, self-compassion is loving yourself just as you love the ones you care about. This kind of unadulterated self-love is so important and effective that it’s commonly used as a counseling technique and psychotherapy, Leary explained.
The most important step in practicing self-compassion is substituting negative, critical and, sometimes, automatic thoughts about yourself with thoughts that are more supportive and kind.
Whenever you catch yourself expressing self-critical thoughts, Leary recommends that you ask yourself: “What would I say to and how would I treat a friend or loved one who was going through this situation?” After you have your answer, try to talk to and treat yourself the same way.
4. Keep tabs on your negativity.
It’s also useful to ask yourself how much of your homesickness is due to an event, such as being separated from loved ones, and how much is from how you’re perceiving a situation.
For example, people often blame themselves for their perceived inability to cope with a new environment or meet new people, Leary explained. In reality, blaming oneself can only exacerbate the “natural distress” that comes with transitioning to a new environment.
Leary recommends taking a step back, instead of falling into the trap of a negative outlook, by consistently assessing your thoughts and emotions.
“The biggest challenge is to reduce the automatic, negative, catastrophizing and critical self-thoughts that generate negative emotions and to substitute kinder, more supportive thoughts,” Leary said.
A positive outlook on a situation can do wonders for your mood, but it often can be hard to practice. You can silence negative thoughts in many ways, including reciting positive mantras, keeping a journal or even taking a walk in a park.
If you’re dealing with feelings of homesickness, remember you’re not alone. Even though there’s no place like home, give yourself some time and care. You might find yourself falling in love with a new place.