Far-from-Home Blues: Five Tips for Battling Homesickness

Tomorrow marks the one-month anniversary since we left Atlanta. At this point we thought we’d be surrounded by the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of France, but a series of delays have kept us here in Connecticut. So we aren’t yet dealing with culture shock, but there are definitely days when we miss the life we left behind.

Homesickness, at least how I’ve been experiencing it, isn’t exactly obvious. It kind of sneaks up on me. One minute I’ll be fine and tackling our new life like a boss. The next minute I’m tearing up over a PetSmart commercial or getting frustrated a little too easily over a missing sock (with just six suitcases and one bedroom, it can’t have gone THAT far).

Meme

I guess homesickness can get to the best of us, no matter how exciting the journey. Even Odysseus longed dearly for home on his epic adventure.

This morning, I decided to dig around the Internet a bit and see what others have written about homesickness. This article, by Derrick Ho at CNN, argues that homesickness isn’t about “home.” Rather, it’s about an instinctive desire for our basic human needs: love, security and protection. Being out of your comfort zone can spark anxiety and nostalgia, even if you are simultaneously excited about your new experiences. The good thing, the article goes on to explain, is that situations that induce homesickness build up the coping mechanism for future separations–basically it gets easier over time.

A second article I found from the New York Times discussed the idea that our global economy has opened up more opportunities and changed expectations about living abroad, but the benefits aren’t without potential psychological and emotional impacts as well. It goes on further to note that homesickness is something not often discussed (typically because the emotion cam be regarded as an “embarrassing impediment”) and the prevalence of high-tech ways to stay in touch with family and friends, like Skype and Facebook, give an illusion that it’s easy to stay connected no matter the distance.

My biggest takeaway from my research? It’s okay to feel this way and, in fact, is even to be expected. Still, you can’t let it take the enjoyment out of the journey, so I’ve put together a list of the top five ways Matt and I are combating our bouts of homesickness.

1. Exercise: There’s not much that can beat the boost of dopamine from chocolate a great workout. We try to get in at least one good workout each day by either hitting the gym or going for a run. Now that the weather is nicer, we can even get outside for a good hike on the weekends or after-dinner walk. Working out is a great way to stay motivated and burn off calories from eating out more than we typically would. In addition to helping combat any frustrations or feelings of displacement in our current life, it will help keep us strong enough to carry those heavy bags during our future moves.

2. Stay Busy: When we were in Atlanta, we always had something to do. Whether visiting with friends, going to a festival or show or even just taking a stroll up to Piedmont Park, we were never at a loss for activities, friendship and entertainment–and were often booked out for months at a time. Now, living in a much smaller city and existing in a state of limbo where it’s hard for us to plan for more than a week out, our life is very different. So we’ve put a lot of effort researching places to go and activities to do (TripAdvisor is one of our favorite sites to find out what other travelers and natives find enjoyable in any given area), and try to check out a new Connecticut spot at least once a week. We also try to set mini goals (such as drinking a gallon of water each day) so we have things to work towards–even if it isn’t yet a move date or vacation.

3. Schedule “Play Dates”: In addition to visiting with family while we are in town, we’ve made sure to set up lunches and dinners with some of Matt’s longtime friends and friends we are just getting to know. Making friends when you are new to an area can be hard no matter what your age. I think as an adult it is sometimes even more difficult as many people have their established groups and, when you aren’t going to be in a location for a very long time, you don’t have the same opportunities to build new relationships over ongoing experiences together. We’ve been fortunate to meet friends who will be accompanying us on the first leg of our journey and have taken the opportunity to get to know them better. The best advice I can provide for making friends on the road is to be open and patient. Be open to meeting new people, but be patient and understanding that friendships do not happen over night.

4. Establish a Routine: I’m no longer working in the 9-5 environment where my schedule required a specific routine, so it’d be easy to roll over and stay in bed while Matt gets ready and heads to work. Instead, we get up at the same time every morning, go to the gym, eat breakfast and then come back to the room to get ready for the day. When Matt heads out, I either head right up to the coffee shop and jump on the computer to blog–or I jump on the computer in our room and start hammering out the day’s blog post. We try to keep our bedtime the same every night as well. Sticking to a familiar routine keeps us centered and feeling more at home–even in a hotel room.

5. Keep in Touch with Family and Friends: We got my parents and brother set up with Skype before we left to make it easier to chat while we are overseas and have fortunately been able to do a couple of sessions with my parents. I’ve also set up chats with friends through WhatsApp and GroupMe, free messaging apps that will allow us to stay in touch even when we are in different countries. Technology is no substitute for spending time with each other, but at least it helps us stay connected until we are together again.

The above tips (plus chocolate and snuggles from my hubby) are what works for me. Any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below. Obviously if you think you need professional help, please seek it (I am just a psychologist’s daughter–not a licensed therapist). Happy travels!

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