The very real pain of homesickness

After reading this great article by a fellow student about how the brain thinks it experiences physical pain from a broken heart, I wondered if the pain I am feeling from being homesick has a similar connection to that of a broken heart.

For those reading this post, homesickness will not be a new feeling. 92% of adults experience it over their lifetime. For some, chronic homesickness will interfere with their daily activities so much that the only help is to attend counselling or go back home.

Homesickness is characterised by feelings of longing for a place or person and can be accompanied by crying, stomach aches, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances and headaches. For me, homesickness comes with intrusive thoughts about home and all the wonderful people and places there. I’ll sit here, staring out the window and I can picture myself back home in Perth, Western Australia…

Toes in the sand as the Indian Ocean gently laps over them. My friends are burying each other in the sand behind me. I see gum trees over the top of the sand dunes.

Home [picture by author]
Home [picture by author]
Suddenly I’ll be back in my little apartment in Melbourne with clouds and rain my only companions. My heart burns in my chest and tears spring to my eyes unannounced. This pain is strong and real.

Why am I feeling this way?

I’ve been in Melbourne for 9 months now and have made new friends, keep myself busy and enjoy being here. But I can’t shake the feeling of wanting to jump on a plane back home right now.

Human beings are social creatures who seek inclusion and try to avoid social rejection. When we are rejected socially (such as through bullying or breakups) the brain registers pain.

Research is showing that the same goes for homesickness. The need to belong, to be included in places we feel safe and comfortable in and maintain relationships, is part of who we are. hen we are physically removed from those places and people, the stimulation of the nervous system in the brain is the same as when a loved one dies. We register pain and hurt.

Even when we make new friends, these feelings might not go away. This is because family bonds and long-term friendships cannot be easily replaced. Their importance to you will remain no matter how far away you are.

The light at the end of the tunnel

The good news is that if you feel included in your new city, you will experience less homesickness. It doesn’t matter if you make 1 or 100 new friends, try all or none of the experiences which come your way or push all thoughts of home from your mind or never stop thinking about it, if you feel like you are a part of your new city, your brain is happy and homesickness will lessen.

There are many benefits from being away from home. It may sound cliché but you really do learn more about yourself. There are new experiences every day as you stumble around a new city and culture. In the technologically connected world of today, calling and texting, skype, email and Facebook make it easier to stay in touch with those most important to you back home. Check out some more tips on overcoming homesickness here.

For me, I will keep counting down the days until my toes will be washed by the Indian Ocean once more and all my friends and family demand Krispy Kreme donuts the second I step off the plane.

Picture by author
Countdown to home [Picture by author]

2 Responses to “The very real pain of homesickness”

  1. samsing says:

    Very nice post!! I do feel homesick as well (I’m from South America, and family and friends are on the opposite side of the world).

    I’ve been very lucky though, and as you mention. Being away is an amazing experience that teaches you many things about yourself.

    Good luck in Perth next time you visit your beloved ones.

  2. jmaguire says:

    Yes, being homesick is one of those things that we will all experience at some point, and it is not nice! It’s a strange thought that feelings like homesickness and heart-break can bring on physical reactions.
    Not to make you feel worse, but I was in Perth a week ago for a mini-holiday. It is beautiful there and I can see why you miss it. I hope the time until then goes quickly!