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Homesickness: 4 Ways to Cope

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

When we relocate to a new country or area, we are often caught between our feelings of excitement about starting a new adventure and the sense of loss over the past that we left behind.

We often believe we "shouldn't" feel those negative emotions, especially when we have made the deliberate choice to relocate. So we fight against these feelings and try to push them away, which causes us even more distress, because the feelings don't really go away. If we ignore them, over time we start living with one foot in our past, missing out on the joys that our present could offer.


Psychologists define homesickness as "the feeling of distress (emotional or physical) that can happen when a person is separated from their home and/or loved ones". Here are some ways we can address it:


1. Know that your feelings are normal


You may be experiencing emotional symptoms like a depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, low motivation, anger or isolation from others or physical symptoms like headaches, tiredness, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, body aches, stomach problems or low energy.


Know that homesickness is normal. Rather than judging yourself for having these feelings, try to acknowledge and accept them.


A recommended first step is labelling - name your feelings e.g. "I feel sad", "I feel lonely", "I am afraid of what the future will bring."


2. Explore your new area


Venturing outside your comfort zone is an important step in adjusting to your new environment. Research shows that when we face our fears with our actions (behaviour), we are less likely to fear them. It may feel overwhelming at first, but you will thank yourself for it later.


3. Keep an item that reminds you of home


Psychologists call this a "transitional object"- an object that gives you comfort in a new environment. It could be a souvenir from your hometown, your favourite blanket from back home, a photo frame, etc.


4. Find ways to stay socially connected


This may seem obvious, but I am mentioning it here because the research is clear that social support goes a long way. Make time to stay in touch with your friends / family back home - there are a variety of ways in which you can do this online.

Consider how you can find your tribe in your new environment too - reflect on the types of activities that allow your to build relationships with people in your new area and pursue these.


Note: These are only a few first steps based on research, and I hope they have been meaningful to you. For more customised and detailed support, I would recommend personal therapy.


About the Author


Diya John is a counselor and psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychology and a Diploma in Counselling from Australia. She founded Therapy Garden to make evidence-based counseling more accessible to expatriates, immigrants and the international community. She is based in Japan, but works with clients in different parts of the world via online therapy. Read more about her areas of specialisation and services here.


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References

  • Guarnotta, E. (2021) Homesickness: Effects & 7 Ways to Cope

  • Thurber, C.A., & Walton, E. (2007) Preventing and treating homesickness. Pediatrics, 119(1), 192-201.

  • Van Tilburg, M.A., & Vingerhoets, A.J. (2011). Psychological aspects of geographical moves: Homesickness and acculturation Stress. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

  • Ferrara, T. (2020). Understanding Homesickness: A Review of the Literature. Journal for Leadership and Instruction, 19(1), 8-15

  • Verschuur, M. J., Eurelings-Bontekoe, E. H., & Spinhoven, P. (2004). Associations among homesickness, anger, anxiety, and depression. Psychological Reports, 94(3 Pt 2), 1155–1170

  • Litt, C. J. (1986). Theories of transitional object attachment: An overview. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 9(3), 383-399





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