Whether you’re off to university, travelling, moving across the country or uprooting to the other side of the world the feeling of homesickness can affect anyone and can be a very real ache even in the midst of an overall exciting adventure into the next chapter of your life. If you are struggling to adjust to being away from home or being somewhere new then these 10 ways to cope with and work through homesickness can be transformational for managing how you’re feeling.
A common misconception about feeling homesick is that it’s not just felt by young people going off to university/college. In fact it doesn’t matter how old you are, homesickness can be just as agonising in your adult years as it is when leaving home for the first time.
Feeling homesick isn’t necessarily about leaving your childhood home and family. More often than not it’s a longing for familiarity, security and the place where you felt you were the best version of yourself.
I haven’t let it be secret on Postcards from Hawaii that when I first moved to Canada I really struggled to adjust to living here. I shared part of my story in my blog post, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be – a reflective journal.
In the following months after moving from London to Vancouver I was terribly homesick, it ate away at me every day until it evolved into depression. What started as an ache for the life I loved and left behind became an insufferable intolerance to the life I was building here. The more I let my homesickness consume me the more I rejected life in Vancouver until any minor inconvenience triggered me into rage or tears. Sometimes both.
Though most of those days have been replaced by warm memories of happy times in Vancouver, I can recall one moment where Michael accidentally broke my Union Jack bauble a mere 10 minutes after it had been hung on our Christmas tree for the first time. At the time the bauble was purchased it resembled excitement over moving from England to Canada and nothing more. Though by the time it was ready to be placed upon my brand new Christmas tree during my favourite time of year, the very light bauble was heavy with emotional baggage and as it shattered on the floor I felt it viscerally throughout my nervous system. In a moment, hopeless tears pooled under my cheeks as I wept onto the unforgiving tiles of our cold bathroom floor. Home felt the farthest away than it ever had before.
All this vulnerability to say, I truly understand the feeing of homesickness and I have experience with working through it to find joy in life again. As I found what worked for me I made notes to reflect on whenever I found myself pining for England and now, as I prepare to visit home whilst I write this, it feels like the right time to share it with you.
In this blog post I will be sharing the 10 ways to cope with and work through homesickness that I used to manage my longing for the life I lived in England and find joy in my new home in Canada. I can’t believe that as I write this, it’s been almost two years since I moved here and that I’m preparing to live here another two years. These 10 ways to cope with and work through homesickness have really helped me, I hope they can do the same for you.
Before I take you through my ways to deal with homesickness I want you to know that whatever your situation and however old you are there is nothing to be ashamed of. Homesickness shows up for us in different ways and often unexpectedly. Hold space for yourself and your emotions. You can absolutely work through this but it’s also important to understand those feels before working through your homesickness.
1. Don’t isolate yourself when you feel homesick
Dealing with homesickness can feel very lonely and like no one can relate to what you’re going through. You don’t have to go through it alone though. Reach out to your support network whether this is friends, family or a therapist.
Your people who love you unconditionally will not judge you. Let them in.
They don’t need to be there physically to be there for you emotionally. My best friend has lived in a different country to me for over 10 years and we’ve always been there for each other.
If you’re particularly missing people at home then schedule calls with them so you don’t feel out of the loop. This will give you something to look forward to as well.
If your homesickness is feeling particularly debilitating then please reach out to a professional therapist or counsellor to help you talk through what you’re going through and take action to heal from it. I cannot even begin to tell you how pivotal it was to have my weekly sessions with my therapist when I was struggling with feeling homesick.
2. Rewatch your favourite show or movie to feel less homesick
To be clear I’m not encouraging you to unhealthily binge-watch tv instead of adjusting to your new surroundings but watching familiar shows and films can ease anxiety and can help you regulate your nervous system as you work through homesickness.
In the same year that I moved to Canada Vogue India published an article by Hasina Jeelani about why you find comfort in rewatching your favourite TV shows over and over again. Featured within the article is the following quote by London-based psychological coach, Lucy Spicer:
“The neural activity activated by rewatching a TV show that we like causes the release of feel-good chemicals, like dopamine, and we are left with that warm, soothing feeling in our bodies.”
Time magazine also published their article Why Rewatching Your Favorite TV Show Is Good for You which shares how writer and editor Jill Duffy struggled with adjusting to living in a new country but was able to find comfort in watching her favourite shows. Watching Seinfeld gave her a sense of familiarity with the city of NYC through her screen that she was missing in India.
Both articles, along with others, go on to explain how anxiety is triggered by a fear of the unknown (hello homesickness!) but shows that we are familiar with cannot disappoint us because we know what’s coming and can help us to feel control over our environment.
So whilst there are people out there who are quick to throw shade at those who are re-watching Gilmore Girls in Fall/autumn, perhaps consider that as well as being a trend it’s also helping them to adjust and regulate their emotions as we move into shorter, darker and colder days.
3. Eat familiar foods if you’re feeling homesick
Following on from my previous tip about how familiarity can help you work through feeling homesick, eating familiar foods will absolutely help you to adjust to your new surroundings.
Eventually I encourage you to find new foods to love, ideally local dishes that excite you about where you live or are travelling, but whilst you’re in the thick of feeling homesick I recommend eating something you know and love.
When you’re struggling to adjust to somewhere new, the risk of being dissatisfied by something is heightened and can easily trigger your homesickness.
When I first moved to Canada I was a vegetarian and I deeply struggled to find a meat alternative that I liked. Most of the substitutes on the shelves in Vancouver are vegan junk food and there is nothing here that even comes close to Quorn (I did not appreciate how good we had it in England). Not being able to eat a balanced or satisfying meal the way I was used to fired up my homesickness that led to an eating disorder. Now this is a rather extreme example but it’s something to be conscious of if you’re really struggling with homesickness.
One of the most touching things my fiancé did for me when I was really feeling an awful ache for home was seek out BBQ hula hoops, Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles and Marmite for me. He surprised me with a shoebox of treats from home on the way to Whistler when he proposed to me and I think I was more emotional about that shoebox than the ring box (that’s addressed in I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be – a reflective journal).
I don’t recommend over-eating snacks that aren’t healthy for you in large quantities but do find what helps you.
Much like watching a familiar TV show, eating something you know will reduce your risk of dissatisfaction and regulate your nervous system whilst you’re working through your homesickness and adjusting to your new surroundings.
4. Care packages can ease homesickness
Leading on from number 3 is receiving care packages.
One of the most helpful things I found whilst coping with my homesickness was receiving care packages. Of course it’s easier said than done to find and ask people to send you boxes from home, I get that, but if you do have someone who will, even if it’s just for your birthday then it can make the world of difference. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if you feel it could really help you.
Care packages are quite the art here in North America, especially from parents to their kids who have not long gone off to university – go on, Google it, there’s a lot of love and attention going into those themed boxes. There’s also that recent trend (I know this is going to age this blog post but whatever) of partners giving their other halves a “Boo Basket” which is a Fall/hallowe’en themed gift basket that is pretty much an autumnal care package made with gifts from Target or Walmart (like ASDA in the UK).
Of course care packages don’t have to be extravagant or even themed, they can be just as effective if they’re filled with tea, Percy Pigs and crispy M&Ms.
Throughout the year my Mum and childhood best friend take it in turns to send me a care package. Sometimes I pay, sometimes they pay depending on whether it’s close to my birthday or Christmas. Don’t underestimate the power of your favourite biscuits/cookies or even an item of clothing from a store you don’t have in your new home can have on you.
Care packages have been really key for me in helping ease my homesickness.
5. Do something that reminds you of home if you’re feeling homesick
Whilst you’re adjusting to your new surroundings, if you’re having a particularly difficult time feeling homesick and don’t feel like trying something new then do something that reminds you of home.
For me this was getting dressed up and going to a nice bar for cocktails, something we did all the time in London. When we were viewing apartments in Vancouver we had a day where it rained relentlessly, we didn’t like what we saw, one of the realtors showed up late leaving us standing in the cold and rain for half an hour and on top of feeling homesick I burst out saying “I just want to put on a nice outfit and go for a drink in a fancy hotel lobby that has a big Christmas tree!” – It was the end of November so a totally reasonable request, thankfully.
I didn’t know it at the time but actually doing exactly this right when I needed it was invaluable. Immediately after my homesickness faded in that moment and I was able to focus on what I wanted from an apartment. That clarification, not only with myself but with Michael, the universe too allowed me to manifest my dream apartment in Vancouver that we found the very next day at the literal address: 1111. Angel number!
Did it cure my homesickness? No, but in this case, acknowledging what I needed in the moment and acting upon it put me on the path to find a home that even when I feel homesick or disconnected with Canada I feel at home within these walls.
6. Journal about what’s making you feel homesick
Following on from my little story about clearing my head and allowing myself to refocus on what I need leads me onto this next way to cope with and work through homesickness.
You may notice that the first 5 things on this list are about reminders of home, that’s because when you’re really in the thick of feeling homesick your ability to make decisions and self soothe goes haywire. It’s harder to find joy when your body and mind are telling you that nothing is okay. So it’s important to first regulate your emotions and nervous system before you move on to finding peace and joy in your new home or surroundings.
Journaling is a trend for a good reason, it helps us to reduce anxiety, regulates our nervous system, allows us to think more clearly, helps us to build awareness, understand our emotions and gain perspective.
Something I do when I feel particularly overwhelmed is write out a list of everything that is overwhelming me, causing anxiety and stressing me out. Everything big or small goes down on the page. Then when I feel like there’s nothing left to add I take each thing and one by one I write out a rational response. This could look like a solution, actionable steps or simply writing that it’s out of my control and that what will be, will be.
The apartment is a mess, it’s full of boxes and I can’t find anything.
This is a very normal part of the moving process, I will take three boxes and unpack them then flatten and store or recycle those boxes to create more space. In time I will find everything and it is exciting to have the opportunity to reorganise my space and belongings so I know where it is from now on.
Breaking each one down and reasoning with it will make your stresses feel more manageable. Getting negative thoughts and emotions out into a difference space can often free you from them, even if for a moment.
I’ve done this for as long as I can remember and though I don’t recall where I got this idea from it has helped me in all stages of life.
7. Read books on positive mindset to work through homesickness
When I moved to London (the second time, before moving to Canada) I didn’t enjoy it straight away. Aside from it being the time of on-and-off pandemic lockdowns it was also the period where we didn’t know when or even if we could make our move to Canada.
It’s wild to remember a time when I wasn’t thrilled to be in London when now I’ve never loved a place more.
Something that helped me accept my situation was to read a book on positive mindset and manifestation. The book that helped me adjust my mindset and ultimately embrace life in London was Super Attractor by Gabrielle Bernstein.
Whilst reading this book that encouraged me to restructure my thoughts with every turn of the page I slowly shifted my outlook on where I was in life.
I very clearly remember the moment I had in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, right outside of the Aquatic Centre. We were on our daily walk around the park which was next to our apartment block and I turned to him and said I’ve decided I’m not going continue to live in this limbo waiting for the border to Canada to open, instead I’m going to embrace life in London and all this city has to offer. I told him I had a gut feeling that it was about be a very good spring and summer.
As soon as I made that choice to live the life I had instead wait for the one I wanted a huge release came and I had the best time in London. Perhaps this worked too well because I really didn’t want to leave London when the time came!! Read with caution!
When I struggled with moving to Canada I started to read that same book by Bernstein and one of her proceeding publications and a similar, less effective but similar all the same, shift happened.
8. Exercise regularly to combat homesick with endorphins
By now I’m sure we all know that exercise releases endorphins which help to relieve pain and stress.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore or unenjoyable. There’s an episode of Live to 100: Secrets of The Blue Zones (that Netflix documentary about places around the world where people live to longer than the average life expectancy) where presenter, Dan Buettner says society has made a link between exercise and pain; no pain, no gain. He goes on to acknowledge that in these places where people are living longer and healthier lives that exercise can come in all forms, from dancing to doing the laundry by hand.
Find a way to move your body that you enjoy so that you can release those wonderful endorphins to help overcome feeling homesick. It will also help you to create a routine to help you move through your day as you work through your homesickness.
Taking exercise or dance classes can also help you establish your life in your new surroundings and give you an opportunity to meet new people.
9. Build a new support network to relieve the feeling of homesickness
Making friends is a huge part of life, we need them to prevent isolation and loneliness. They give us a sense of belonging and purpose and are the people we celebrate our highs with and lean on during our lows. They are also a pivotal part of our personal development.
It is important to open yourself to making friends in your new environment, they will help you establish a sense of belonging there which will work towards overcoming your homesickness.
I have a follow-up blog post on how to make friends and set boundaries when you’ve moved to a new place coming out within the next few months. Until then I encourage you to make friends everywhere you go.
10. Take a trip to take a break from feeling homesick
Not to be confused with running away from your problems, just to be clear.
Sometimes it can help to remove yourself from a situation entirely in order to gain a new perspective on it. We often speak about taking a holiday/vacation from the stresses of work of life in general, this is the same thing. Taking a break from dealing with homesickness, struggling to adjust to your new home and longing for your old one or the people still there can be incredibly healing.
Before I moved to Canada I made plans to go on a girls trip to Miami. I didn’t realise at the time that I booked it how crucial this trip was going to be for me. The break away from my daily struggles to adjust to my new chapter in Canada plus the middle-of-winter weather gave me the breather than my mind, body and soul needed. I carried it with me into the trip at the start when my luggage got delayed in Canada — check out my blog post How to prepare and what to do if an airline misplaces your luggage — but as the trip went on I began to release my homesickness long enough that I could work through it with a fresh outlook upon my return.
If a trip isn’t on the cards financially which is perfectly understandable if you’ve just moved then consider a day trip instead or even just an activity that will distract you and excite you enough that you’ll look forward to it.
If you’re feeling homesick on a trip then do something that consumes your excitement and joy so that you can distract yourself. We all need a break.
Consider doing something in your new city/town as you would if you were visiting on a trip. Go to a local attraction, do a popular activity, eat in a restaurant or maybe even take a tour or excursion.
If someone you know is struggling to adjust to being away from home then please share this blog post with them and let them know that they are not alone. These 10 ways to cope with and work through homesickness really helped me to adjust to my life in Canada and pulled me out of a really difficult place in my life. I hope that this blog post can do the same for them.
If you are struggling with homesickness then know that you are absolutely not alone. It will get easier in time. You’ve got this.
Do more on & for the planet, Gabriella