Transitioning to college, with all of the expected, and unexpected, adjustments and experiences can be a time of new stress. We tend to think of stress as a negative experience, but it can also represent an opportunity for growth and accomplishment. At a time where travel has been restricted due to COVID-19 guidelines, homesickness can cause new levels of stress.
Counterintuitively, I tend to conceptualize homesickness as a positive experience. It says to me that there is something at home worth missing, whether it be relationships, family rituals, attachments to friends, a loving pet, or just the familiarity of comforting and predictable surroundings. It takes courage to intentionally separate oneself from these good things in the search for adventure or new experiences. One can develop a new perception, where you can enjoy both the new and the familiar at the same time, an “and” instead of an “either/or.”
Signs of homesickness include:
- anxiety, especially related to the ability to make decisions on one’s own;
- constant thoughts about home or what is missed;
- increased concern or doubt about the decision to be away from home;
- an urge for constant contact, such as multiple calls or texts per day;
- and feelings of helplessness.
From this list, one can see that the experience of homesickness can consist of both feelings and thoughts. These can interact in a cyclical fashion. An example is: “I wonder what Mom made for dinner tonight. I really miss her cooking. The food here is terrible compared to hers. I could have stayed home and attended school. I made a mistake in coming here!”
What starts out as a seemingly innocent question ends up as a negative and powerful feeling. When we start down that road, we begin to look for evidence that the feeling is correct. For example, one might now tune into dissatisfaction with other aspects of the campus experience and, before you know it, you are creating a logical and emotionally reinforced argument for going home. This process creates that “either/or” dynamic mentioned above: “I can be happy at home; I can’t be happy here at school.” The way to truly address homesickness is to create the “and” between the two ideas: “I can be happy at home, and I can be happy here.”