Dealing with Homesickness and Loneliness

When you are starting school, it may not feel like you are fitting in or making friends right away. You may have spent years building relationships with the friends you left behind, and it may have been awhile since you have had to make any new friends. It just takes time. 

It is not uncommon during this transition period to feel homesick or lonely. Homesickness is simply the distress caused by the separation from your home. For some it can include feelings of sadness, depression, or grief over the loss of what is familiar. Others may feel anxious or moody or become more socially withdrawn. 

Loneliness is the feeling you get when your social needs are not being fulfilled. Because meeting people and developing connections takes time, at first you may feel lonely because you are not connecting with others in the same deep and meaningful way you did with your friends from back home. 

In the ACHA-NCHA survey [pdf] of 24,970 college students, almost two-thirds of respondents (63.2%) reported that they felt very lonely in the past year. Similarly, published data [pdf] on first-year students and homesickness indicate as many as 70% of students experience it. Whether you live 2 miles away or 2000 miles away from home, homesickness can affect you. It is completely normal and okay to feel this way, and  chances are that your fellow students are experiencing the same. 

Feeling homesick is normal during your first year at school. Data indicate that as many as 70% of first-year students feel the same way.

Sometimes our default way of dealing with these experiences or other feelings of discomfort perpetuates the feelings or experiences further. Behaviors like retreating from others, using our phones or social media to fill time, talking to friends and family from home, or even heading home on weekends can inhibit your ability to build connections with others on campus and form a community identity and contribute further to feelings of loneliness or homesickness.


Ten Tips for Managing Loneliness and Homesickness

  1. Talk about your feelings with others. With almost two-thirds of college students experiencing loneliness, chances are your new acquaintance, roommate, teammate, or classmate has felt the same way. Sharing a common experience with another student is one way to build a meaningful connection. It also helps normalize what you are feeling recognize those feelings as common.
  2. Focus on gratitude. Think about what you enjoy most about your time at school rather than what you are missing. Consider creating a list or journal that you can refer to and enter items into at moments when you are feeling lonely or missing home.
  3. Rather than calling home only when you are sad, call to share positive news like a grade or activity you enjoy. Connect home to positive contexts or feelings and resist calling home only at times you are feeling sad.
  4. Get involved on campus and find an activity that connects you to a passion of yours. Think about an activity you enjoyed in high school and find a way to further that experience or contribute in a similar way on your campus. Consider joining a club, intramural team, volunteer project, or other extracurricular activity. Doing so can provide you with social connections, a sense of purpose, and in some cases, physical activity which is a known mood booster.
  5. Personalize your space with some comforting items from home like a blanket or photos. Having a few familiar items can increase your comfort in your new space.
  6. Try to limit your time on social media. There is a great deal of research that shows a relationship between the amount of time spent on social media and mood. In addition, people tend to “edit” what they share on social media platforms, creating a false sense of realistic experiences. When you constantly view images and posts where everyone appears to be having a good time, just know that this isn’t reflective of everyone’s experience.
  7. If you live close to campus, don’t go home too often, especially in the first few months of school. While it might be tempting to visit family, especially when you feel unsettled, going home on weekends may inhibit your ability to forge relationships with other students and make your new campus feel like home.
  8. Push outside your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to approach strangers in the cafe, lecture hall, or other common areas. If you see someone sitting alone introduce yourself or invite them to join you.
  9. Take care of yourself by getting adequate sleep and exercise and managing stress. These are important to your overall well-being and also impact mood.
  10. Seek care if your feelings don’t improve, worsen, or get in the way of your participation and engagement on campus.