It's Not Just Homesickness Anymore: The "Youthsickness" of College Students

When I was little, my parents used to say I was born at 18. Now that I am 18, my parents have told me that they expect me to act 21, maybe more. But I'm finding, especially being so far from home, I'm kind of doing the opposite.

When college students think about independence, sometimes only one side is represented. The primary aspect of independence, though, has less to do with what you want and more to do with what you need. Sure you can do what you want when you want, there are also the responsibilities that there are no longer parents or guardians to pester you about. Suddenly dishes are overflowing in the sink, and you're just opening a Microsoft Word document to start tomorrow's essay.

Because of this, it's no surprise that so many of us look for a little comfort, something familiar. For me, it's the Disney movies I watch while doing homework. I sing along to Hercules while typing out an essay. And after spending so much of my childhood in Walt Disney World, I've come to associate anything in it with comfort.

And I'm not an anomaly. At first I was convinced I'm the one strange college freshman who is desperately clinging to her childhood. Clearly, I thought, I went from that five-year-old who acted 18 to an 18-year-old who is acting five.

Until I found out that in the mornings, one of my suitemates has been watching Arthur. Another one has sweetened cereal for dinner, every kid's fantasy. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama, told a CNN reporter that we as a people crave love, protection, and security, all of which are hard to find in a new environment. Because we are missing this feeling, we often miss home, but it's more than just the longing for a place. "You're missing what's normal, what is routine... because those are the things that help us survive," Klapow said.

This nostalgia -- the choice of spending a Saturday night watching Finding Nemo rather than sipping Yellowtail -- is nature. Homesickness is real occurrence, but so too is youth-sickness. In a new (and often intimidating or challenging) environment, some part of us craves to feel these emotions once more. We remember and look back fondly on our childhood because we know that the easy part is over. In a way, we cling a bit, trying to get that piece of our lives back.

Entering college is a stressful time for students. As much as the excitement is there, the novelty can wear off and then the anxiety arrives. According to a 2010 study from University of California at Los Angeles, stress levels among first year students have hit an all-time high. That hold we feel to our childhood may just be our body trying to combat that stress. For me, watching a Disney film from my youth allows me to take a break from the real world and then come back it to it feeling more upbeat and ready to take on my challenges.

For a country with college students whose stress levels are climbing each day, this nostalgia is doing more good than harm as the memory of a less anxious time can help bring down the anxiety we have today. We may be holding on to the past, but these memories allow us to keep a piece of our former selves and our former lives with us, which just may be the best way to stay sane in the face of fresh challenges in a new place.