Homesickness is the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from the specific home environment or attachment objects. The term is in origin a loan translation of nostalgia, a learned term coined in Baroque period medicine. The Oxford English Dictionary describes homesickness as a feeling one has when missing home. 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 the family. Many first-year students at boarding schools or universities also experience homesickness.
As children, people develop feelings about home and attachments with things at home. Having those attachments seem to be a hindrance on children as they go to summer camps, sleepovers, as they travel and even more commonly, when they go to college. Homesickness can be associated with feelings of nostalgia, grief, depression and adjustment disorders, all of which can affect people psychologically and emotionally. 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, pets and aspects of their familiar environments. People may describe their feelings as a deep sadness, depression, frustration, anger or hopelessness. In very rare instances, suicidal thoughts may accompany feelings of missing home.
As homesickness is defined as feelings of one missing home, there are many different types of people who are affected by it. From young children to college students, homesickness can impact people very negatively. If it is not dealt with effectively, homesickness can lead to other emotions that are much deeper and could ultimately psychologically damage some people.
Factors that may affect homesickness include:
Homesickness can be traced back to Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey. Odysseus wept and rolled on the hard ground thinking of home. Followed later were actual documented cases of homesickness. In the 17th century, Johannes Hofer, a Swiss physician, diagnosed a young man on his deathbed with homesickness. After releasing him to go home, his condition immediately improved. In the earliest days of European settlement in North America, many colonists longed for their faraway homes and displayed such longings publicly. The Europeans who migrated to America in the early seventeenth century did not have the modern lexicon to describe their feelings, but diaries, letters, and histories reveal that yearning was part and parcel of the colonizing experience. Although such scattered references to homesickness appeared in journals and letters, Americans first perceived the emotion as a widespread social problem during the Revolutionary War, when thousands of men left home to fight and countless soldiers complained of homesickness. Following the Revolution, Americans underwent a dramatic transformation. This was the first time in American history that the people readily had available resources such as canals, steamboats, and railroads. As a result, these Americans left their homes in search of change, finding out that it gave them a sense of “dislocation” and homesickness.
Today, homesickness is recognized more in children and more quickly identified. Modern researchers document case studies and more in-depth feelings surface. The feelings that are mostly identified with homesickness are nostalgia, grief, depression, anxiety, sadness, withdrawal, and adjustment disorders.
Uncertainty Reduction Theory discusses the processes through
which individuals go to reduce uncertainty about one another when
placed in an unknown or unfamiliar environment (Berger &
Calabrese, 100). Homesickness directly relates to this theory in
the processes in which individuals face homesickness when placed in
an unfamiliar place and how this affects their uncertainty
reduction. Particular situations where Uncertainty Reduction Theory
and Homesickness can be viewed in atmospheres where the individual
is relocated to a new environment with new peers for an abbreviated
amount of time or permanently (e.g. summer camps, boarding schools,
military, and college campuses).
Social Penetration Theory describes self-disclosure and the processes in which individuals disclose personal information about themselves. This is important to homesickness in the aspect that individuals will be more likely to self-disclose when they are in an environment that they are familiar or comfortable with, such as “home”.
Coping is a method used by individuals to lessen the effects of a negative situation. Homesickness is a state of being that includes both cognitive process and complicated emotions. Feelings associated with Homesickness are anxiety, depression, sadness, and withdrawal. About three quarters of children experience homesickness to some degree and thus must cope somehow with the experience. Often homesickness is somewhat hard to diagnose. Individuals tend to withdraw socially, mentally returning to comforting thoughts of home. An immediate remedy for homesickness is to return home. However this is not always an option and in many cases can be more harmful to the development of the individual. First method of coping with homesick individuals is addressing the cognitive components. If individual’s cognitions are manipulated then they will tend to not experience the symptom of homesickness. Cognitions of home are either altered or totally avoided when trying relieving homesickness. Getting homesick individuals to participate in games, task, or assignment will redirect conscious thought away from home.Cognition is a large factor to why an individual experiences homesickness and by making a homesick individual change their conscious thoughts it will help them cope with homesickness. Also participation in activities will reduce uncertainty homesick individuals have about new environments
The second aspect of homesickness is the affective state or emotional state. This is more problematic because the emotions experienced with homesickness must be internally processed. Emotions like sadness, depression and withdrawal are experienced by homesick individuals and can’t be immediately relieved . Counseling and discussion of feelings with a trusted individual is a method to help relieve some of the anxiety and stress. There are direct methods to ease some of the symptoms like writing a letter, or calling home. Direct contact with home is a reassurance of the security of the home. 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.New thinking needed on helping kids avoid or cope with homesickness, experts say. By Kara Gavin, University of Michigan Health System. January 2, 2007.
Once separated from home, children and adults report that the most effective ways of coping include: