When I first went off to college, I used to say: “I’m not homesick, I’m people sick.” It wasn’t my old room, or my my Zac Efron poster I missed. It was my friends and parents. It’s common for people to say they’re “homesick” when what they really miss are the social connections and the support system they’ve been relying on for so long.
Dr. Sherry Benton, Ph.D., ABPP, the founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect, explains that the feeling is totally normal. “When you first go off to college or you move to a new city, you’re changing every aspect of your life,” she says. “Starting from scratch, building a social support system, and getting comfortable in a new place can seem hard because it is hard.”
Reena B. Patel, an educational psychologist, parenting expert, and guidance counselor, agrees, and notes that, when it comes to college students, they’ll likely have a honeymoon period when they first journey off to school. Then the homesickness might take them by surprise a few weeks later once the lust of the new freedom-filled environment has worn off.
But no matter when this hits you — the first day of college or after moving for a new job as an adult — the key is to recognize that it’s not this terrible catastrophe. It’s a natural part of life.
It's going to feel emotionally draining and uncomfortable at first. There are a few reasons for this: One, Benton explains, is that stress is a functional bodily reaction telling you: “You’ve gotta work on this — our brain, nervous system, and body doesn’t feel completely comfortable with this new setting yet,” Benton says.
Luckily there are solutions to your problem, and some of the best involve distracting yourself.
Don’t go home from college right away
It can be tempting to run back to what you know, especially if you’re going to school close by your parent’s house. But it’s important to stay in the game and meet new people. Particularly since you might make new acquaintances who are going through the same thing.
Strike a balance
Don’t totally feel like you need to forsake your old support system. Keep in touch with your old friends and family via phone, Benton recommends. When you’re in your room, the credits for last episode of your favorite Netflix drama start to roll, and homesickness starts to strike, take turns leaning on your old a new support system. The first time you get the dreaded feeling, try calling your mom. But the next time it happens, you can call a new friend you made at the gym, and see if she wants to go out for hot chocolate.
Know when your next home visit will be
Patel says that it’s important to have it laid out in black and white when the next time you go home will be. Have a date marked on the calendar, so the next time you really want to forsake your shitty cafeteria food to go get a bowl of your mom's famous mashed potatoes, you know you’ll get there eventually.
Bring memories of home
Patel recommends bringing pieces of your old life with you to your new environment. Whether that means pictures or an old quilt that reminds you of a certain moment in time, keep those tchotchkes in sight you to make you feel more comfortable.
Focus on the positive.
Sure, in the worst moments, it can feel like you traded your old life for a new one that’s more unfamiliar and harder to understand. But Patel says it’s important to think positively about what your future in this new place could hold. “Think of it like this: You’re starting a big journey, and you’re just adding on to a wonderful, long life,” she says. “You can still go home, but you're just taking a snapshot of where you are now, and doing something new. You can always return, but you’ll be better for where you are now.”