We all feel homesick at times. Whether you moved to start college, relocated for a new job in a different state, or immigrated 10,000 miles away to a new continent to get married, homesickness is a reality of life for you.
I feel your pain, I get homesick too. For the past 15 years I battled with homesickness quite frequently. There were days when I could not get out of the bed, feeling sad, lonely and full of self-doubt. To be honest, I am not sure what was I feeling and what could be done to start feeling better. I resolve to conduct my own research and get answers.
The post will help you answer the following questions about homesickness:
- What is it?
- How it affects your life?
- How to cope with homesickness?
Let`s explore the topics together in the aim of learning more and discovering effective coping tools.
What is homesickness?
Merriam -Webster defines adjective homesick as” longing for home and family while absent from them”. I would define being homesickness a little more extended…
- missing home, people and places in your past
- craving for certainty, sense of known and familiarity
- it is a quest to redefine ourselves by revising and reconnecting with our past
- cry for stability, sense of order, anchoring and docking experiences
Homesickness is a testament that you are faced with a very big change in your life. The feeling comes with a host of other feelings that may have a measurable negative impact on your day-to-day life.
How homesickness affects your life?
Let me start by telling the truth- being homesick sucks. It does. I hate feeling homesick mostly because I become a crying pile of mush, overeat, get doubtful about my decisions, get anxious and question myself. It turns out I am not along. You may experience many physiological and psychological symptoms that can really take a toll on your personal and professional life. Typical homesickness symptoms include:
- Feeling of extreme sadness and frequent crying
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite
- Compromised immune system
- Social withdrawal and self-isolation
- Inability to form a new routine
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Feeling of anger, loneliness, mood swings, anxiety
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscular tension
You may experience some of these symptoms, all of the symptoms or you may have a different set of symptoms that you are dealing with. In any case, homesickness can have a tangible negative impact on your life. So, how do you handle days when you are REALLY had it with your homesickness?
Please remember, I am not claiming to be the “know-it-all” or a trained psychologist, but I do care and want to share strategies that worked for me and dozens of my immigrant friends. Pick one strategy from each step and give it a try. What do you have to lose?
Four Steps to Combat Homesickness
Step 1: Empathize
- Lean into your feelings. You may feel vulnerable, weak and exposed. You might feel self-doubt. Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling. If you feel crying, by all means cry… We tend to want to be strong and all-powerful and ignore the very thing that makes us human- our empathy. It all starts with being kind to ourselves.
- Acknowledge and accept your state. Your emotions, needs and feelings are real. Don’t judge, dismiss or criticize your emotions. The sooner you accept them, feel them and live them the sooner they will pass. I promise, the feeling of homesickness WILL pass. Many times in the past, I felt like I don`t have time to be sad. For years, I scheduled sadness out of my life and that led to a deeper, more serious challenges, such as depression. Trust your heart and your gut. Say it out loud and own it: “ I feel homesick”. Once the words will sound, you will feel better.
- Express your feelings. Write a hand-written letter to your loved ones, and expressed your feelings. There is a scientific evidence that Expressive Writing can be a very powerful, healing and therapeutic tool for dealing with trauma, sadness and homesickness. Read more about the method in Psychology Today magazine article by called “Expressive Writing” by John Evans Ed.D.
Step 2: Connect and Share
- Connect with your family to share with them how you feel. Celebrate how much you love them and miss them, catch up on what is new in their life. By sharing our feelings and giving words to our emotions we release tension and build relationships. Ask your family about their feelings. The most powerful words you could hear is “ me too” from your loved ones.
- Revisit your family pictures, remember good moments, ask your parents to share a favorite story about your childhood, document it in your journal. By remembering we honor our past and invite future experiences in our life.
- Connect with a friend. (If connecting with your family is not an option). Talk with a person who have earned your trust, someone who will hold a space to be with you, who can be there for you and just listen and empathize.
- Touch someone or give a hug. It sounds so simple but being touched is very healing. The act of hugging or a touching someone releases an entire cascade of happiness hormones that elevate our mood, calm us down, reduce stress in our body and relieves anxiety. What does hugging looks like? Pet your dog, hug your spouse, or squeeze your kid. Alternatively, get a full-body massage, spa or a pedicure treatment, as long there is a skin to skin contact with another living creature. Try hugging and/or touching, it is MAGIC. If you are interested, learn more about Science of Hugging.
- Get intimate. I do realize, that when you read this, you might be on a verge of a nervous breakdown and making love to another human is not your top priority, but trust me, sex works. Getting busy in a bedroom, while you are sad might sound like a lot of work, but scientific studies prove that having sex has therapeutic effects on our body and mind. Sex makes us happier. Read more about impact of your sex life on your mood here.
- Make a plan to visit home, set a date, discuss with your plans with loved ones. Start planning your trip, since our emotions and planning require two separate parts of our brain engaged, once you start planning and dreaming about future your are not longer pondering about past and crying.
- Share a special meal with someone. It can be anything that brings you great memories. For example, fish and potatoes. My story: I love fish. Actually, I love seafood of all kinds, from mackerel (скумбрия), herring to marinated sardines if times are desperate. My favorite meal in the world is smoked or marinated herring and onions, served with young boiled potatoes, garnished with dill, smothered in butter and a side of dark rye bread. One day my friend Yulia shared the meal with me. It was a great evening, I felt home and grounded. We talked about our home, Ukraine and it was a very special evening. So, connect and share a special meal together. It is powerful and healing. You and your brain craves familiarity and certainty in simple places, like your food. That is why its called “comfort” food.
Step 3: Relax and Reflect
- Relax. Allow time to decompress, rest and do things that bring your joy. It can be anything and everything. From reading a book, listen to music, watching a movie, drawing, gardening, sauna, do something restorative, just for you, claim this time to be along and reconnect with yourself. How do I do it? I tan on my backyard. Sometimes I just grab an old blanket on a sunny day, put my swimsuit on, grab my hat, and head outside. I stay on the blanket for a good 30-40 minutes, get some sun, listen to my favorite music, and after half-an hour I feel so much better!
- Get creative. Dive into creativity: take a painting class you always dreamed about, get your craft box out, make something with your hands. The very act of creating engages our creative brain and turns off our emotional brain and helps us to makes sense of our emotions. Read more about effects creativity on our brain here
- Practice yoga and meditation. For example, just going outside and stretching feels incredibly refreshing and quite restorative. I must admit, I have not harnessed the art of meditation and every time I try my thoughts are racing, like horses on the race track, but being still also does wonders to my body and mind. Try it, see if that works for you?
- Practice self-love on a daily basis, take time every day to reflect and be. We tend to hurry to get things done, keeping ourselves crazy busy and not allowing space and time to connect with how we feel about where we are, what we do and how we feel at the moment. Check-in with yourself regularly. Go for a walk, read a book you enjoy or start a daily journal to reflect on your life, decisions and feelings.
- Get grateful. Let`s face it, you might have a hard time to see it that way, but since you started your journey, you faced and overcame many obstacles. It is a great practice to take a moment to recall your wins and celebrate your accomplishments. Think about everything you have done so far and feel gratitude for the journey.
Step 4: Get Moving
- Get inspired. Find a way to move that inspires you personally. Think about activities you used to enjoy in the past. Make an effort to try them again or give a shot to something completely new. For example, i loved swimming, but i no longer enjoy it, so i tried something new. I started rollerblading in the spring of 2018 and it literally changed my life. I loved the freedom, speed and sun. The experience reconnected me with a kid inside me. When I rollerblade I listen to my favorite music, sing, scream and dance. Most importantly, after roughly an hour or dancing, singing and rollerblading I feel happy, sweaty, tired and focused. My sad feelings are gone. I feel like I could take on a world. Seriously the only message is to get moving, you decide how.
- Get outside for a walk. Movement and exercise are very powerful antidotes to sadness and stress. If you don’t feel like moving, maybe you could take a stroll outside? If weather allows, take your shoes off, feel the cool grass under the soles of you feet, relax and reconnect.
- Get an exercise buddy. Research shows that consistent exercise can help to promote positive mood, decrease our risk of depression and help us to combat corrosive effects of stress on our body and mind. We are more likely continue with our exercise routine when we have accountability partner, someone who shares our passions and is willing to do it with us.
There will days, when you feel homesick. It is a reality of an immigrant’s life. You will miss your parents, home you grew up in, people you love, and familiar childhood places.
More often than I am willing to admit, I feel that way too. There are days when I just have to feel my mom`s arms around me, feel her warmth, hear her voice and just be in her presence. There are days when I spend hours molding over what would I say to my dad when we see each other next time. I miss them both terribly.
When the feeling comes I follow the four steps process we discussed in the post: I accept my feelings, I call a friend to share, I write in my journal to remember and let go of my feelings. Lastly, I put on my running shoes and go for a run to clear my head. It is not perfect, but it does work…. You will feel better too…
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What about you, how do you cope with homesickness?
What seems to work best when you feel sad?