What Causes Homesickness?

Oftentimes, homesickness is equated with kids at summer camp or college freshman out on their own for the first time. However, there are studies that show that anywhere from 70 to 92 percent of adults will feel homesick at some point in their lives. What makes homesickness such a universal phenomenon? Let’s deconstruct what homesickness is, why and how we feel it, and a few ways to help ease that gentle pining for home.

 What is Homesickness and Why Do We Feel It?

Homesick is defined most by attachment. It’s no wonder that when we feel insecure or uncertain about our lives, we want the stability and comfort of home. Our minds love the “known,” especially in the face of the unknown. In most cases, homesickness happens between home and new home, during a period of adjustment and change.

According to mental health professionals, homesickness is a kind of grief, except it’s a longing for a place rather than a living being like a family member or pet. It can cause things like anxiety, insomnia, depression, and appetite fluctuations. Change often switches on our fight-or-flight response, and in turn, we feel homesick. Of course, sometimes we feel homesick when we run across pictures from a hiking trip, find a childhood teddy bear, or smell the familiar waft of Dad cutting the grass in the air.

The Scent-Memory Link

Many things can link us to home. People, specific places, and objects can all trigger feelings of nostalgia, but one particular sense is powerful when it comes to memory, it’s scent.  It actually comes down to the brain’s wonderous and mysterious anatomy. When a smell first wafts over to the nose, it is processed first by the olfactory bulb, which links two areas of the brain that are especially significant for emotion and memory: the amygdala and the hippocampus. Since the tactile, visual, and auditory senses do not pass through this processing center, it’s led scientists to believe that’s why scent is such a powerful trigger when it comes to memory and emotions.

When scent runs through the brain, we can experience nostalgia. Not only is it a comforting feeling, it can also combat the loneliness that often accompanies homesickness.

 5 Tips to Ease Homesickness:

1. Find a coffee shop, brewery, or restaurant to frequent regularly to create a sense of community.

2. Decorate your new home with some familiar items from your old home such as a family photo or a crate of your favorite aunt’s world-famous tomato sauce.

3. Get regular exercise! Aside from all the other reasons it’s beneficial, it also releases endorphins which fight anxiety and depression.

4. Practice positive nostalgia with a candle inspired by scents from home. Whether it’s Chicago, New Hampshire, or the UK, there’s a candle that can bring all the warm and fuzzy feelings back with the strike of a match.

5. Talk with friends and family from home and keep connections strong. Often times a little chit-chat can ease homesickness.

Homesickness can be both a positive and negative thing, it just depends on personal perspective. Keep homesickness on the happy side of street with the tips above. Take a moment to reflect with love and warmth and appreciate the good times. Then, move forward and make more memories. You can always look back on them fondly later on down the road.