Whether you’ve gone away to college, moved to a new city or even just traveled for vacation, homesickness is a common emotional experience. Longing for home is the subject of books, songs and films. Celebrities have opened up about feeling homesick, and many people have shared their tips for overcoming it.
But what exactly are we feeling when we experience homesickness and why do we feel it so deeply ― in a way that sometimes manifests physically? HuffPost spoke to a number of psychologists to find out.
What Is Homesickness?
“Homesickness has everything to do with attachment,” said Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
When we feel homesick, we’re feeling insecure or uncomfortable with where we are, physically and emotionally, he explained. “We’re longing for something that in our minds is known, predictable, consistent and stable.”
The feeling has little to do with the specifics of your past situation or your current circumstances, Klapow noted. In other words, a person can have a less-than-ideal home life, perhaps struggling with poverty, violence or other challenges, but still feel homesick after arriving at a beautiful, peaceful college campus.
The analogy I always use is a swimming pool. It doesn’t feel good when we get in at first.Tamar Chansky
Tamar Chansky, a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself From Anxiety, emphasized that homesickness is a very normal part of the human experience.
“It’s a transition between two worlds. The analogy I always use is a swimming pool. It doesn’t feel good when we get in at first,” she said. “If we immediately got out, we’d think, ‘Why do people like swimming pools? This feels awful.’ But if you stay in, you see that you do adjust and then you feel good.”
In the same vein, homesickness is about a period of adjustment. “It could be about missing home, but really it’s also about not yet feeling comfortable where you are,” Chansky explained. “At first we feel like the discomfort we’re experiencing is a forever thing, which is kind of irrational, but that’s what human beings do with uncertainty.”