Home Sweet Home: Defining and Treating Homesickness


| 8 Comments

"Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was." - Jodi Picoult

As I was "creeping" on my friend's Instagram today, I scrolled past a picture of her decorated dorm room from a couple months ago captioned, "my new home." But one of her more recent pictures featured her dog accompanied by a caption that said, "happy to be home!" Wait, what? Trying to establish home can be tough for college students. Personally, I struggle with the idea of life at home "home" and life at college "home."

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With Thanksgiving break around the corner, I am growing more and more eager to get to my home away from State College. Is what I'm feeling considered homesickness? Is homesickness even a real sickness?

What is homesickness? In a paper published by the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Chris Thurber and Edward Walton define homesickness as "distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated seperation from home and attachment objects such as parents."

According to Chris Thurber, if you're suffering from the condition, it's likely that you feel some form of anxiety, sadness and nervousness. It's very common for someone who is homesick to have an obsessive preoccupation with thoughts of home.

When I think of sickness, I assume there should be a treatment to accompany it. But wait; is it even a real sickness? Research says yes. Studies also show that the prevalence of homesick varies widely depending on how homesickness is defined, population being studied, and circumstances of separation.

Example: Prevalence of homesickness among young people in boarding school is estimated to range 16%-91%. Why such a wide range? Further digging led me to realize the researchers relied heavily on self-reports and the results reflected variation in its subjects' recollection. When researchers measured the homesickness at the time the person was in the new environment, prevalence was 83% to 95%.

I find these numbers especially interesting. A significantly larger percentage of people said they felt homesick when they were asked while they were actually in the new environment as compared to the smaller number of people who said they felt homesick when they were asked in a familiar environment. So, what I gather from that is people are less likely to remember how homesick they actually were once they get back to a familiar place (home, probably). Also, the study didn't consider what the subject's home life was like. Maybe being away at school is an "escape" for the person, therefore, they long to be away from home. We should also consider a lot of clinical psychologists say that homesickness is linked with feelings and emotions instead of attachment to a literal home.

There are several ways to combat your homesickness. "Doing" strategies include distraction and social connection, contacting home, and getting social support. "Thinking" strategies include being optimistic, gaining new perspective, cognitive avoidance, and vicarious social support.

With the combination of new routines, social and academic pressures, and a new home (aka dorm room...which is coincidentally the same size of a prison cell), the longing ache for familiarity is definitely present.  I know a lot of my friends who feel homesick cope by trying to avoid thoughts of home and do things to distract themselves. Personally, I cope by doing the opposite. If I'm having a hard day and missing the comfort and familiarity of home, I go to Starbucks, order a drink me and my mom always get, put in headphones, listen to Dave Matthews (my family's favorite), and look at pictures that remind me of home and add them to my personal blog. 

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I think homesickness is definitely a real thing, and I think there are coping methods for everyone; you just have to do what's right for you. I quickly found a method that worked for me, but not everyone is so lucky, and I'm sure the stresses of homesickness can affect people in destructive ways. With the high prevalence of homesickness on college campuses, do you think Penn State should provide more resources for students who are suffering?

8 Comments

I think we're all in the same boat as far as feeling homesick right now. We're soooo close, yet so far away from our break. This is an extremely interesting topic to me, especially the thought of homesickness actually being a "sickness". It is even really about missing "home" particularly? I did some research and found this article from CNN titled " Homesickness isn't really about home". It turned out to be extremely interesting. It talked about young people leaving for college and becoming homesick. It explains that homesickness isn't really about missing home, it's about missing things that remind you of home (love, attention, compassion) you're missing what was normal to you at one time. I firmly believe this to be true. I know that I get most homesick when I have exams and I feel stressed out. I miss being able to talk to my mom or eat home cooked meals. I've actually noticed over the past few years that I have gained a greater appreciation for my family. I think it would be interesting for scientists to do more research about "homesickness" it would be interesting to see if it can lead to depression symptoms. Below is the link to the CNN article I was explaining.
http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/16/homesickness.not.about.home/

Something that I thought of when I was reading this was people's different reasons for being homesick. Everybody has a different home life and everybody has different things to miss, but maybe even get away from. When they mentioned the 83-95% of people being homesick directly at the time of being in the new environment, it made me wonder if those numbers would have rose if it would have taken into account people's home lives. For example, if people in the study were abused, didn't get along with their parents or just didn't like their home life for one reason or another, that could have accounted for the percentage of people that did not feel homesick. Overall, if they would've taken the participants home life into account, the numbers could have been much different in the study.

I really appreciated this article because I am always homesick. As much as I love college, I always feel that need to be home with my mom and in my own bed. I did not know if this was normal or abnormal. I agree with the statistic that after being in a new environment the homesickness can be from 60-95%. This made me feel a little better. I too, cope by doing things that are familiar with me. For example, I always like to call my mom at a certain time everyday, which definitely makes me feel more comfortable. I also find that going home every once in a while can help rejuvenate me and refresh me for the rest of the semester. http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Homesickness
This article talks about 3 ways to deal with homesickness
1) talked to a love one
2) stay in touch
3) keep doing something you love (such as a hobby)

KAITLIN: That article was very insightful. The girl who was commenting on her homesickness made note that she felt as thought she was missing out one things back at home (i.e. her friends getting married, having children, etc). I actually never considered the "fear of missing out" contributing to homesickness, but that's actually a good point, and I could definitely see the connection now.

I agree, I think this topic is understudied, and if scientists looked more closely into it, we could come up with some more effective ways of remedying homesickness.

This medical site provides some ways to prevent and cure homesickness, but they aren't very sophisticated methods, and I'm not sure they would work well for everyone.

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/192.full

I found the statistic interesting for other reasons. A significantly larger percentage of people said they felt homesick when they were asked while they were actually in the new environment as compared to the smaller number of people who said they felt homesick when they were asked in a familiar environment. I might not have explained that data well enough in my post.

So, what I gather from that is people are less likely to remember how homesick they actually were once they get back to a familiar place (home, probably).

So, I wonder how going home for fall break will affect our homesickness?

That's a really good point! I didn't think about that. But, this article suggests that homesickness isn't really about "home." A clinical psychologist notes that it's not that we are missing our literal house, it's a feeling that stems for our instinctive need for love. He says, "You're missing what's normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive."

I didn't think of it that way, but it definitely offers an interesting perspective. Anyways, yes, I believe taking a person's home life into account would skew statistics.

Check out this article, I'm going to edit my blog now that I read it, I like what the clinical psychologist has to say!
http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/16/homesickness.not.about.home/

My roommate and I, as well as everyone else I'm sure, can not wait to go home. I'm not sure if it's attributed to homesickness or not. We love it here, but there's just that want to be home with all our friends and family left at home, as well as wanting to get caught up on everything and get away from school work. So, I guess that is homesickness. I never really thought there were ways to combat it, except for actually going home. But, it's great to know that you found a way for yourself to get through it! I feel like as it gets closer to break I find myself wanting to get home more and more so I've been trying to keep myself busy to keep my mind off it, which I guess is my tactic. I never really thought of it in that context though so it's interesting. This website says that it's good to take a trip home, only once though. Sometimes going home too often can actually make homesickness worse!
http://collegelife.about.com/od/cocurricularlife/qt/5homesicktips.htm

Penn State should DEFINITELY provide more resources on campus for students that feel homesick. I say this because as a freshman, I experienced this feeling first hand it would have been nice to have a little more support. But, I agree that home sickness is only a "sickness" based on the severity of the case. I experienced homesickness the first 2 weeks of summer session. But after that, and especially when fall semester came around, I was not home sick at all. I therefore do not consider myself sick about missing home. On the other hand, I still hear about girls having mental break downs and wanting to transfer to a school closer to home. Being this far into the school year, and the fact they are still feeling this way, I would consider them being "sick" about missing home. When I would call home crying the first few weeks, my mom would jokingly say, "I'm sorry your dad and I provided you with such a nice life here, this is all our fault." Freshman especially are blind to how well they had it at home, so coming to a new place where you suddenly have all responsibility over yourself can be a huge reality check.

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