How to Cope with Homesickness
tap your heels together three times
“I’m fine! Everything’s really great. I’m having THE BEST time”
How often have you spun out that similar line of utter bollocks into a message?
Whether you’re away uni, moved to a new town for work or joined the expat club somewhere completely alien to everything you’re used to, glossing over the negative spots of a new adventure and jazzing up the reality is a universal practice of humans around the globe.
So why do we do it?
Firstly, social media blah blah blah (yeah you’ve heard this one before) – even if you think you’re above the non-subtle humble-brag #soblessed posts of people living enviable lives on the internet, there’s that secret thrill of showing off where you are and what you’re doing to those who are watching you back home. Especially if those ‘likes’ start stacking up on a smattering of your pretty pictures that have been painstakingly retouched by two photo editing apps.
Another reason I think we shine only the brightest, most positive light on our lives is to ease the worry of the ones we’ve left behind. ‘Yes, I’m eating’ ‘No, I’m not hiding in my room’ ‘Of course I’m being social, I went out last night’, you want to reassure your friends and family that you are safe and well and flourishing in a foreign domain miles away from their watchful love and care.
And then there’s the final motivation as to why we plaster on a mega-watt smile and spout happy-worded rubbish – to drown out the whispering inner voice murmuring in response ‘That’s not true, you’re sad and feel lonely. You’re homesick and you have been for a while now.”
Even if you’ve amassed a good group of pals in your new territory and are able to see and do a bunch of amazing things, the sense of missing sneaks its way in and haunts the background of everyday life. Even more so once the shiny novelty of the place wears off. The lack of familiarity from your old world seems kind of jarring.
For me, it came in waves. Sometimes I was so busy, doing one thing after another to focus on, that the heavier thoughts my mind chewed over were forgotten. Other times, I’d be tip-tapping away at my computer when all of a sudden I was crushed with the weight of isolation and how much I missed home and everything / everyone my UK life came with.
I suffered from homesickness baaadddly my first winter away.
Sour feelings took over my mental driver’s seat, Mad-Max-ing me into unhappy oblivion and shooting off lightning bolts of angry resentment as I watched those around me having fun so easily. Why couldn’t I just be that confidently relaxed in these new surroundings? Why am I squirrelled away in my flat yet again???
Retreating into myself more and more, I suspect it was a way to cope with the out-of-my-depth emotions that kept swelling up and down the walls of my head. I presented a shell of a person to everyone else; calm, practised and ‘fine’ on the surface.
The worst knock was when my best friend and mum came out to visit me within two weeks of each other during the January and February of 2017. As soothing as it was to have them there with me, these two intense links from home were placed in my hands and then had to slip away seven days later.
And it tasted bitter.
The flavour of homesickness is like the nail varnish that’s designed to stop you biting them because it’s a basically a hit of rotting acid.
I figure you have two options when battling with homesickness, either pack it in and go home. No one who’s truly got your back will think any less of you. It’s always braver to make a bold move if you think its right for you. Especially if your homesickness is so debilitating that you start showing other symptoms of being unwell.*
Cope and crack on.
When the clouds parted and sunshine came through again, I’d get on with a handful of the below things to stretch out feeling better.
/ Keep connections going back home.
Yes, it requires planning and effort to arrange Skype dates, having 234 Whatsapp conversations on the go and setting phone calendar reminders to ring people. It sometimes feels like an exercise of diary snap, finding a time you’re both free to schedule a call, but ohmygod it’s so worth it. You don’t realise how much you’re holding in until you’re talking the ear off a close friend. But try not cling to communication too hard though as it could swing the other way and set you back.
I’m not a Nigella-esque spoon-licking effortless goddess when it comes to whipping up a meal. But I like the therapeutic ritual of cooking; assembling ingredients into something that’s comforting, warm and nourishing. Even if it’s a dollop of fluffy eggs on butter-drenched toast, I get a satisfied glowy kick out of this basic form of self-care and feeding my body to fight another day. So treat yourself as you would a loved one going through a rough time and in need of a bit of food-based love. Bowls of cheesy pasta, aromatic noodles, casseroles and soups are a good place to start in giving yourself a big old hug.
‘Like the lightest, most fluttering caress in the mouth’ – Queen Nigella
/ Shift your attitude
Easier said than done, I know.
I come across peppy and upbeat, but my inner monologue is naturally pessimistic. I have to work hard to set my thoughts and views on the world as positive. Putting myself in a ‘victim’ mindset was something I kept slipping into; that I was the only one feeling low, I was the only one struggling. Bollocks to that. Everyone rides on crappy feelings sometimes, they just handle it differently. Put on some music and dance around your room regularly, it gets your endorphins going and brushes away the gloom.
/ Step out of that comfort zone
If your relocation has frightened the shit out of you, even the smallest challenge will be magnified in your eyes. Guess what, moving to a place where you don’t have a familiar support network around is already pretty fucking fearless, so keep that ball rolling. For me, it was small achievements like learning to comfortably drive on the other side of the road (not just any roads, snowy mountain roads), skiing a run that made me nervous and pushing back against my default introverted setting by talking to people I didn’t know that well a bit more. Each time I’d do what I was scared of doing, another little brick was added to my wall of confidence. A total cliché but I promise you’ll be surprised at how many more things you think you can do, compared to what you can actually do.
/ Tourist in your own town
📷 By me Red Bull Hangar 7 Museum
Chances are, you’ve moved to wherever you are now for a reason. Whether it’s for work, to experience a new culture or because you simply wanted to be beside the sea. I’d wager there also might be a handful or more of cool sights and activities that you wouldn’t get to see or do back home. Yeah, you might be living in Barcelona but have you actually gone out and actually seen Barcelona? Make a list of every tourist attraction you can reach and like to go do. If you’ve got local friends, explain you want to go visit X, Y and Z to discover what all the fuss is about. They’d most likely fall over themselves to give you a mountain of tips on what times are best to go or look out for, and maybe even insist on accompanying you for a couple of days out. Getting to know a place really well – tourist traps and all – will reinforce why you’re there and makes you feel less like a stranger in the area.
/ Treat yourself
In my experience, it’s easier to be mean to yourself than being nice when you’re in a fragile state. Again, approach your care as if you were your best friend. Would say to them half the things you say to yourself? I’m guessing not. You’d be supportive and think of ways to raise spirits rather than beat them over the head with nasty taunts. So spoil yourself a bit. It doesn’t have to be a big extravagance. A new £2 nail varnish, a bottle of wine, a favourite takeaway – or just some fresh bedsheets and an early night. A little self-directed TLC goes a looooonnnggg way in repairing stressed nerves and feeling looked after.
/ Deepen the connections to those around you
A big part of homesickness is feeling lonely. Becoming friends with a bunch of new people may not come naturally to you. It certainly doesn’t to a hardcore introvert like me. I lucked out in Austria and was adopted straight away by a set of friends who were inclusive and sympathetic when I wasn’t 100%. But that doesn’t mean I sat back on my laurels and waited for them to come to me. As excruciating as it is when you’re not socially confident (hello my tribe!), you must push yourself to make an effort with people. 9 times out of 10, you’ll end up having fun rather than regretting it and becoming an awkward part of the wallpaper.
/ Home comforts
Turn your home space into a set up that’s more comfortable for you. If that means buying pillowcases, plants and fairy lights to feather your nest then so be it. Making your new digs familiar will give back the control you’re probably missing. Plus you may be experiencing homesickness because your new city or country or isn’t feeling like home yet. Mementoes like photographs or a bed throw that you get to see every day from your previous home will help cosy up your place too and transform it into a sanctuary you enjoy relaxing in.
I cannot say that any of these will help your homesickness. And it’s something that won’t disappear overnight.
I was carrying it around with me even when I went back to Austria this year; I think I’m just one of those people who feel it really hard. But when the sadness seeped in this season, I was able to recognise it and try to do something about minimising the yucky despair that plunged me into mind-mist the first time around.
I still cried, but not nearly as much. I also had a total blast. So that’s sort of proof it works.
📷 By me 😍
*Physical manifestations of homesickness can be constant or frequent crying, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite, to nausea, dizziness and headaches. If you are showing any of these signs as well please please please go see a doctor.