What to do when you feel homesick

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
July, 2016

Starting university can be difficult for some - but you won't be alone in missing your friends and family. Discover how to identify and deal with homesicknessā€¦

What is homesickness?

Student homesickness is caused by the psychological separation from your normal surroundings and the shift to university life. If you're feeling stressed or anxious about the unfamiliarity of university, and thinking primarily about your friends and family from home, you're probably suffering from homesickness. Luckily, it's usually only a short-term emotional position.

According to research by Nightline, one in three students will experience homesickness during their time at university. It doesn't matter who you are, or indeed whether you're a home or international student; homesickness can affect anybody. The two main periods when homesickness is most likely to strike are at the start of the autumn term and the weeks after your first Christmas break.

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  • feeling isolated, lonely or withdrawn;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;
  • lack of appetite or concentration.

How do I deal with homesickness?

Homesickness can kick-start more serious mental health issues such as depression, so it's vital that you confront the problem. However, you should remember that it's perfectly normal to miss familiar surroundings and struggle to adapt to new ones.

The most reliable way to beat homesickness is to fully immerse yourself in the university experience. Joining clubs and societies is a great way of meeting like-minded people, while you should also visit places in your new town and get involved in local events. Exercising, eating well and regulating your sleeping pattern are also essential.

In addition, it's vital to sensibly manage your relationship with home. Regular contact with family and friends is important, but constant contact on social media won't allow you to focus on your new life. There are some other things that you should definitely avoid, such as:

  • bottling up your feelings;
  • locking yourself away in your room;
  • rejecting opportunities to meet up with others;
  • failing to attend lectures and seminars;
  • using alcohol more than you normally would.

What expert advice is available?

You may feel like dropping out of university altogether, but this should be a last resort. There's plenty of expert support available beyond your GP and personal tutor.

Many universities offer professional support services that are experienced in helping those who are suffering from homesickness to settle into university life. Coventry University's Health and Wellbeing service is just one example. Provisions here include a spirituality and faith centre, and a counselling and mental health service. Sue Thurlow, clinical lead, says that the institution also works closely with the students' union on initiatives to help new entrants stop feeling lonely and isolated.

'The transition to university can be challenging, and leaving behind family and friends can be tough for many students,' adds Sue. 'We try and offer lots of opportunities for students to fill their time, which helps reduce isolation and improve social contact.'

Nightlines are also very helpful, especially given that homesickness often strikes during unsociable hours. These anonymous, confidential listening and information services cover more than 90 universities in the UK and Ireland. You can contact them via phone, email, instant messaging, text messaging or drop-ins. They are run by students, for students.