Oh, college. Leaving behind the sweet familiarity and joyful comforts of home in pursuit of something new can be thrilling and liberating — but after the initial excitement wears off, reality sets in. You’re left in unfamiliar territory (and around unfamiliar people), and unpleasant feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness can start to creep in. In other words, you might be experiencing symptoms of homesickness — and it’s totally normal.
Homesickness is “so common,” emphasizes Lauren Linn, LMSW, a New York-based psychotherapist. But despite its prevalence (a whopping 94% of students felt homesick at some point during their first 10 weeks of college, according to a 2017 study), the intensity of homesickness can vary based on your upbringing: For instance, if you moved or attended summer camps or boarding schools before college, you might experience homesickness less than, say, your roommate, who's never lived away from home before.
And while homesickness usually lasts anywhere from a few days to several months, according to Paula Madrid, PsyD, a psychologist, interior designer, and founder of Blue Panda Office Spaces, ignoring the feelings associated with it and allowing them to fester can lead to “severe anxiety and depression, as well as serious adjustment disorders.”
One way to help curb homesickness is to tweak your living environment. A good rule of thumb: Think of your living space as your sanctuary. “Ask yourself, What can I include to maximize feelings of safety and comfort?” says Linn, who offers two ways to achieve this: 1) Promote familiarity by adding things like family photos, a stuffed animal from your childhood, the same colors from your bedroom, or a scrapbook, or 2) Do the complete opposite. “Maybe it isn’t helpful to have your room feel reminiscent of a space you’re longing for. Establishing a new space can be really healing and help mark the transition.”
Need a primer on where to start? Read on for more expert-approved tips and shop key products from Bed Bath & Beyond to cultivate a space that will help quell your homesickness.
Create A Sense Of Coziness
During the day, you’ll likely be preoccupied and busy with classes, socializing with friends, or traipsing around campus. So, at night, feelings of anxiety and loneliness can take over, says Dr. Madrid. That’s why it’s key to focus on “textiles, comfort, and lighting.” She suggests layering your bed with soft, comfy blankets, throws, and pillows, which can create a feeling of safety. Lighting, she adds, also matters because the onset of homesickness tends to occur in the late fall and winter (which is unfortunate timing, since it coincides with your first semester). Because of colder temperatures, shorter days, and less exposure to sunlight, incorporating lighting that mimics sunlight can make a big difference in your mood.
Make It Visitor-Friendly
When you’re feeling sad or anxious, it can be tempting to isolate and avoid situations that require social interactions. However, mixing and mingling with others is just as important as learning in college, Dr. Madrid says. If the thought of attending a movie night in your residence hall or going to a meet-and-greet with other classmates makes you shudder, try making your dorm room visitor-friendly. “[Include] a jar with candy or snacks (budget-permitting), some throws, or anything that’s likely to get guests to come by and visit,” she adds. If ice-breakers and extracurricular activities aren’t your thing, socializing — even a quick conversation in your doorway — can alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Add Comforts From Home
Consider incorporating a few pieces from back home, like your favorite pillow or a decorative item that feels meaningful to you. “For many [students], this is their first time away from home,” says Hillary Stamm, interior designer and founder of HMS Interiors. “Creating a space with [recognizable] touches always yields the necessary warmth and coziness of home that is so vital.” Try including accents that feel reminiscent of your home: Textures, artwork, plants, or even candles with scents that feel nostalgic are good ways to usher in that familiarity while still feeling like a fresh space. If you’re stuck, consider asking a parent or another family member to help you arrange your space to make it feel like home, says Jill Croka of Jill Croka Designs.
Your new digs might be a bit smaller than what you’re used to. This can make it difficult to include certain items that feel familiar to you, which is why it’s crucial to practice good spatial management, says Perri Eppie, an interior designer in New York. “Take advantage of storage solutions,” she advises. “Make sure the things you use often and that provide comfort are easily accessible. The things you use less can go in harder-to-reach spots.”
While you won’t be able to accommodate everything, strategically arranging your space will help your dorm room become a haven from campus life. “What will be your social space and what area is just for you? While there's likely no wall to separate these areas, cleverly arranging your bookcase or desk can help direct foot traffic,” says Eppie, who suggests an L-shaped space with your bed placed behind your desk so there’s a visual and spatial barrier. “Also, focus on the small tasks of keeping your home neat. That ritual of caring for your temporary home can help establish it as your own.”
Incorporate Elements Of Nature
Biophilic design — the concept of incorporating nature into a built environment — has become more popular in recent years because it has been shown to “reduce stress levels and improves cognitive function and creativity,” says Eppie. “It takes into account our need for a mind-body connection.” Consider including patterns or materials that occur in nature, such as clay or wood grain, which has a fractal design that can be soothing with its repetitive sequences, she adds. Placing a small plant (a spider plant or monkey tree are easy-to-care-for options) by the window can also be helpful, giving you something to watch and care for throughout the year.
Choose Colors Accordingly
Many dorms are often bland, with beige or white walls. Liven up your space by injecting reds, yellows, and oranges — warm shades that feel cheerful — into textiles, pillows, bedspreads, and wall canvases. Cool colors, like blues, promote relaxation and calmness, as do colors inspired by nature. “It’s great to think about the psychology of colors and look into what they mean,” says Eppie, “but also, think about the colors you like and how they affect you, and choose accordingly.”
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