Homesickness is something that affects a lot of us, whether we like to admit it or not. The reality is, leaving home, your friends and your family, for a new city is tough and sometimes we forget that.
Dealing with homesickness is a topic that I’ve wanted to write about since I came home at the start of the month and following an inspiring post by an old school friend, Anya Coates on how she’s homesick but happy, now seemed as good a time as any.
When I was offered the opportunity to go to Dubai to intern, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands before anybody could dare take it away from me. In the lead up to leaving, the nerves drastically increased, anticipation crept up on me and the excitement levels were sky high. I was so busy thinking about how exciting this opportunity was and how nervous I was to take on this magazine internship that I forgot to take a moment to think about the fact that I was travelling nearly 5000 miles away from home.
I have never classed myself as a home bird. When it came to university applications I was ready to get out of Belfast and explore some new cities. Although Belfast is my home, I’ve never stopped dreaming about how amazing it would be to live in some of the other cities around the world, whether it be Dublin, London or New York. With all that in mind, it really came as a surprise for me when I started to feel homesick during my stint in Dubai.
Realistically, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all and I know now that being homesick is fairly natural, something that we all experience at one point or another. If you’re reading this and struggling with being homesick, remind yourself that you’re not alone and what you’re feeling is totally normal.
For me homesickness isn’t about the place, it’s the people I miss. The familiarity, the safety, the comfort. I’m all for pushing yourself and getting out of your comfort zone every so often and I believe it’s such an important part of growing and evolving as people. But because of that I feel it’s important to not let these things such as anxiety or home sickness get the better of us.
The biggest thing I learned with homesickness is that, like most things, with the right mindset and a few distractions, you get over it and with the countless amazing opportunities available out there, boy is it worth it to learn a few tricks for dealing with homesickness.
Be honest. Say it out loud. I dare you.
I have people in my life who are very proud when it comes to emotions and won’t necessarily tell you when they miss you or when they need you. Equally I have people in my life who are very open about their emotions and will straight up tell me how they’re feeling.
I’m not saying one is better than the other, we all have our own ways of dealing with things.
I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I’m pretty proud when it comes to expressing emotions and I get very awkward when I have to talk about my feelings so usually I just don’t. But when it comes to being homesick I found that honesty was the best policy.
Admit how you’re feeling. There’s absolutely no shame in telling someone you miss them or you miss home or things aren’t going the way you thought they would. Most people will jump to your defence and do whatever they can to help you feel better. It’s the little things sometimes. Just remind yourself how lucky you are to have such amazing people in your life that you miss them so terribly when you’re/they’re not around.
Get over the guilt
This was a such a big one for me.
There I was, working for a glossy magazine, completing my dream internship, in 35 degree heat and sunshine, spending weekends by the pool and living in a society dripping in luxury and yet all I could think about was how much I missed home…
Other than damaging my pride, I was so worried that everyone would think I was being incredibly ungrateful. I’d like to stress at this point that this definitely was not the case nor was it my intention. I absolutely loved my internship and was genuinely sad when it ended. It had granted me the opportunity to live out my dream of working for a magazine for a month and not knowing when I would next get the opportunity to be part of that world again, I wasn’t ready to burst that bubble yet. I knew how lucky I was to have this opportunity and how many people would kill to be in my place but as soon as I stepped out of the office doors in the evening, the anxious knot in my tummy and sadness sank in as the feeling of homesickness became a reality once again.
I felt a massive pressure to love every moment of my trip and friends kept going on about how glamorous my life is now, living out the dream in Dubai but glamorous isn’t quite the word I would go for. I felt awful because they were only trying to be supportive and praise me for my achievements and yet every time they mentioned it, I felt so much more isolated. On top of everything else I felt so much guilt.
Similar to when I admitted that I was homesick, as soon as I opened my mouth to confess to how guilty I felt, I was met with nothing but support and reassurance.
Admitting to the guilt felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders. At the end of the day you’re only human, you can’t help how you feel and you’ll soon realised just how normal it is to feel homesick.
In today’s society we’re always in constant communication with people and with a little bit of wifi, anything seems possible. Initially I tried to hold off from Facetiming friends and family back home because I thought it would make me feel worse and miss them even more. In the end this actually had the opposite effect.
By week 2 I had a rough Facetiming schedule for the week. I knew who I would hear from and when which gave me something to look forward to each week and as someone who thrives off routine, it helped to ease some anxiety.
Although I was chatting constantly to friends during the day through WhatsApp or Facebook, actually hearing their voice and seeing their face made such a huge difference. It made the distance seem irrelevant for that hour and it allowed us to have a proper conversation.
Calling someone from home, even if its just a quick 5 minute call can make all the difference when you’re feeling homesick. Whether you’re calling your mum to help calm you, your boyfriend to make you laugh or your best friend for all of the gossip from her latest night out, you’ll be so thankful for the distraction and you’ll be surprised by how much it will lift your mood for the rest of the day.
Establish a routine
Having a routine in place means that you know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. With the structure that a routine brings, you’re left with very little time to think and get upset. Distraction is key when it comes to being homesick or dealing with anxiety in general.
When I was feeling homesick I needed something other than the homesickness to focus on to avoid my mind going into complete overdrive, so I found the easiest way to do that was to create a routine. For me it was as simple as getting the tram into work, grabbing a coffee, catching up with snapchat and then walking to work.
Every morning I arrived to work an hour before I was due to start my day and went about my little routine to ease myself into the day. By the end of my month in Dubai, the barista at Costa had learned both my name and my order. Every morning as I walked in she always greeted me on a first name basis and went out of her way to make sure my morning coffee run went smoothly.
By creating a routine you end up going about things in a step by step manner, thinking about nothing else other than what’s the next stage of your routine – perfect for when your mind has become your worst enemy with anxiety and homesick ridden thoughts.
After speaking to one of my best friends prior to writing this post, she told me about her time at Camp America during the summer and how one of the things that they did with the kids to avoid homesickness was encourage them to incorporate something from their daily routine at home into their daily routine at camp. I think this is such a great idea and whether it is something as simple as reading a book before bed or eating the same breakfast food that you do at home, its well worth a try.
Become a “Yes” Man/Woman
Having a routine was all fun and games until the weekend came around. I really never thought I would see the day when I dreaded the weekend.
During the week I had my routine perfected down to a tee and I was distracted by work all day so it was much easier to put any homesickness thoughts to the back of my mind.
As soon as the weekend hit so did the reality that I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know the city and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Thankfully, I was staying with my godmother and her family who are all very social. She made such a massive effort to include me in her plans and for the most part I joined in. Being a bit of an introvert, this wasn’t always easy and I got to a point where I couldn’t force the socialising out of me. Looking back, I really regret this and the distraction of socialising and meeting new people would have probably saved me a few tears and sleepless nights.
Learn from my mistakes and say yes to every opportunity you get (within reason). You never know who you might meet or what you might learn. Sometimes it can be so hard to force ourselves to get out and about but 9 times out of 10 you feel so much better for it.
Including this in the list seems pretty ironic and contradictory to my previous point about arranging FaceTime dates but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Social media can be great for keeping up with friends while you’re away but it’s also a massive trigger for FOMO.
FOMO + Homesickness = Recipe for disaster.
On the one hand watching the snapchat stories of my friends helped to cheer me up because I felt like I was still in the loop with everything going on at home. On the other hand, there were also days when all it did was highlight the fact that I wasn’t at home to be part of all of these events being documented on social media by my friends and family.
Some days the easiest thing for me to do was to step away from my phone for a while, put the kettle on and get stuck into my book or magazine. By reading a book you’re able to get completely lost in someone else’s world and forget your own problems for a while. It also helps on the nights where you can’t sleep and you’re desperate for distraction from all of your overthinking.
Getting rid of the phone also means you can be more in the moment and soak up the city or place you’re in, really do some exploring and appreciate your surroundings.
Accept it and move on
There’s no denying that feeling homesick is horrible but it can be overcome and eventually, it will go away. No amount of wallowing will make you feel any better about the homesickness so you need to acknowledge what you’re feeling and then focus your attention on how you can overcome it.
I was lucky because my situation was only temporary and in that case you need to just suck it up for a while, try and make the most of your trip and know that you’ll be home soon.
For others, your situation may be more permanent having just moved away from home to go to university or just moved city to pursue career goals. In this situation, wallowing in your homesickness is probably the worst thing that you can do. In this scenario, remind yourself why you’re there, try and immerse yourself in your new home and focus on making it just that, home.