Homesickness (or in some cases, Nostalgia), is the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from the specific home environment or attachment objects. Feelings of longing are often accompanied by anxiety and depression. These symptoms may range from mild to severe. Homesickness frequently occurs when one travels and may be exacerbated by unfamiliar environments or foreign cultural contexts. Homesickness is especially common in youth. Young people may experience a sense of dread, helplessness, or separation anxiety on their first day of school, summer camp, or on a protracted summer vacation away from parents. Many first-year students at boarding schools or universities also experience homesickness.
Symptoms in homesickness may be emotional, cognitive, or physical. In extreme cases, physical health problems accompany the hallmark symptom of homesickness, which is preoccupying thoughts of home. Most people describe homesickness as a want or longing to be back home, continuously missing their parents, spouse
, relatives, friends, mates, pets, and aspects of their familiar environments. People may describe their feelings as a deep sadness
, frustration, anger
, or hopelessness. In very rare instances, suicidal
thoughts may accompany feelings of missing home.
When physical symptoms, called "somatization", occur, the complaints are similar to common stress reaction. Symptoms may include cramps, ulcers, diarrhea, headaches, tense muscles, vomiting, tears, crying and withdrawal, etc. Note that the symptoms of homesickness, as well as the ways of coping with it (discussed below) are idiosyncratic. Different people experience homesickness differently and cope with it in different ways.
Prevention and treatment
Psychologists say that the best way to prevent homesickness is to spend practice time away from home. Previous experience away helps develop and refine the coping skills most effective for an individual. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in January, 2007, in the journal Pediatrics
, also recommends that parents involve children in every aspect of planning separation, and not offer to pick the child up before the period of separation is scheduled to end.
Once separated from home, children and adults report that the most effective ways of coping include:
- Keeping a positive attitude
- Maintaining contact with home, through letters (traditional or electronic)
- Enjoying what's different about the novel environment
- Bringing a "transitional object" (something special from home)
- CampSpirit.com - Ideas about homesickness prevention and treatment, especially with children, plus empirical research on homesickness phenomenology.
- CampParents.org - The American Camp Association's main page for parents, with links to more research on homesickness and materials for homesickness prevention.
- "Preventing and Treating Homesickness" - Direct link to the American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report published in the journal "Pediatrics"
- SurvivingCollegeLife.com - A site dedicated to easing the transition between high school and living away at college. Includes ideas for college students coping with homesickness, as well as a broad spectrum of articles to help students make the adjustment to living in their own.