Homesickness usually refers to any number of emotions associated with leaving home. These feelings can include fear, grief, sadness and loneliness. Of course, these experiences can be familiar to anyone of any age. However, true homesickness is sometimes felt for the very first time when a student leaves home to attend college. There's no real way to know for sure how well any one person will handle potential homesickness; different individuals have different levels of tolerance when it comes to separation and different ways of coping with stress. Still, when homesickness hits, it can be a deeply troubling sensation. Thankfully, there are a number of ways homesickness can be managed.
Prepare for Tough Times
While many psychologists believe there's no surefire way to prevent homesickness, there are ways to help college students prepare for and manage its intensity. A future college student playing an active role in deciding where he will attend school can work to mitigate looming feelings of helplessness and loss. Parents of soon-to-be college students can also help their children by visiting their campuses and attending school events with them in order to help increase an overall sense of familiarity at the school.
Bring Home to School
Students tend to feel more at ease when surrounded by familiar items from home, especially those with sentimental value. Pictures of loved ones and even pets work as excellent reminders of those who continue to love and support the student from afar. Even stuffed animals and blankets -- anything that provided go-to comfort when the student was still living at home -- can ease the transition.
Keep in Touch
It's not uncommon for college students to call home a number of times during the first week or two away from the nest. It is important that young people express what they're feeling and let their families know that they are missed and that, in turn, calls, packages and emails are appreciated. Over time, though, a student attempting to decrease her number of calls and texts and, instead, increasing more meditative activities like letter-writing can help to make the whole family less dependent on constant contact.
Meeting new people and building new relationships is somewhat like developing a surrogate family away from home. The support a college student receives from friends during times of stress or loneliness can be invaluable. That's why it's helpful for new students to actively pursue spending time with new people, whether in a dining hall, at the movies, within the setting of a club or through participation in volunteer activities or sports.
Students should remember, too, that friendships often develop gradually; one needn't feel like a failure if he or she doesn't develop a close circle of friends right away.
Steady Your Returns
When college still feels new or when stress seems to be making life uncommonly hard, a college student might easily feel the impulse to get in his car and drive home. This sort of fight-or-flight mentality is not helpful when it comes to creating a stable and sustainable college experience. Instead, students can set specific dates, long in advance, as to when they'll visit home again. This offers not only the foundations of self-restraint, but also something to look forward to -- a light at the end of the tunnel when tensions are high.
Ignoring problems related to homesickness can lead to symptoms of depression, including fatigue, lack of motivation, anxiety and/or an increase in risk-taking behaviors. When feeling overwhelmed or immobilized by homesickness, students are best off expressing their feelings to a family member, friend, R.A., or counselor. Talking things through will usually offer some form of relief in and of itself, and the sense of being understood or cared for, whether that connection is made long-distance or just across the room, can help students muster the ability to press on when they might have otherwise given up.
Ruth Nix began her career teaching a variety of writing classes at the University of Florida. She also worked as a columnist and editorial fellow for "Esquire" magazine. In 2012, Nix was featured in the annual "Best New Poets" anthology and received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award for excellence in teaching from the University of Florida.