What to do when you feel homesick

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
June, 2019

Moving away to university - leaving behind friends, family and familiar places - is a big step for anyone and it's not unusual to feel homesick

However, if you identify and acknowledge the problem there are several steps you can take to ease it.

What is homesickness?

Homesickness is a feeling of stress or anxiety caused by separation from people and places that you know. Leaving home to go to university is a very common cause of this.

It can affect anybody - whether you're a home or international student. It doesn't matter whether your university is just a few miles from your home town or on the other side of the world.

Homesickness occurs most frequently at the start of the academic year and in the weeks following the Christmas holidays. Fortunately it is usually a short-term issue. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), most students' symptoms fade after their third week at university.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of homesickness include:

  • a disturbed sleeping pattern
  • feeling angry, nauseous, nervous or sad
  • feeling isolated, lonely or withdrawn
  • feeling overwhelmed, insecure, anxious or panicky
  • feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth
  • headaches
  • a lack of appetite or concentration.

How do I deal with homesickness?

Homesickness can lead to more serious mental health issues such as depression, so it's important that you confront it. However, always remember that it's perfectly normal to miss familiar surroundings and struggle to adapt to new ones - feeling homesick isn't a weakness or something to be embarrassed about.

The most reliable way to beat homesickness is to immerse yourself in university life, even though this can be daunting at first.

Joining clubs and societies is a great way of meeting like-minded people. It's also a good idea to visit places of interest in your new town or city and get involved in local events.

Even when you need to do something on your own, such as a piece of coursework, try to get out of your room. For example, study in the library or take your laptop to a coffee shop. Being among other people will help you feel less isolated.

Exercising, eating well and regulating your sleeping pattern are also essential.

In addition, it's important that you manage your relationship with home. Regular contact with friends and family is important, but at the same time you need to give yourself space to focus on your new life. Constant phone calls or social media messaging will exacerbate your negative feelings.

If you're homesick at the start of term, it may be tempting to head straight back home at the weekend. However, you need to use this time to get to know your new surroundings and meet new people. Instead, plan a visit home for a few weeks' time, so that you can look forward to it while making the most of your first weeks at university.

Don't be disheartened if being a student isn't immediately the amazing experience you were expecting - that will come in time as you settle in.

You should avoid:

  • bottling up your feelings
  • locking yourself away in your room
  • rejecting opportunities to meet new people
  • failing to attend lectures and seminars
  • drinking alcohol more than you normally would.

What expert advice is available?

You may feel like going to university was a bad choice and want to drop out. However, changing or leaving your course should be a last resort. There is plenty of support available, starting with your GP and your personal tutor.

Many universities offer professional support services. They have lots of experience of helping students who are suffering from homesickness to settle into university life.

Nightlines are also very helpful, especially given that homesickness often strikes at unsociable hours. These anonymous, confidential listening and information services cover more than 90 universities in the UK and Ireland. You can contact them by phone, email, instant messaging, text messaging or drop-ins. They are run for students, by students - your students' union will be able to give you contact details.

This webinar featured in the Prospects Future You: Live event in November 2020.

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