What to Know About Homesickness and Mental Health

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
4 min read

Homesickness is the feeling of emotional distress when you’re away from home and in a new and unfamiliar environment. It affects those who’ve moved both temporarily and permanently, such as students, migrants, refugees, and those in the military. It’s estimated that 50% to 75% of the general population have felt homesick at least once in their life. 

Nearly everyone misses something about home when they’re away. But some people might feel more severely homesick than others. These are some of the causes of homesickness:

Disruption of lifestyle. Moving away from home means your routines and lifestyle are interrupted, which can lead to anxiety and distress. Your usual habits and routines can’t be depended on for comfort in your new situation, especially if the environment is culturally different from what you’re used to. 

Cultural distance. Researchers found that the greater the difference between cultures and cultural values, the more difficult the adjustment, which leads to homesickness. This can lead to a lack of interest in your new surroundings.

Difficulty adapting. A new situation requires adjustment, but not everyone finds it easy to adapt. In a study of those who had recently entered the military, those who felt homesick tended to be those who were more rigid in their behavior. They clung to their old habits and avoided situations that required them to adapt.

Feelings of Not Belonging. In a study of people from other countries living in the Netherlands, homesickness was more common among employees aged 30 to 39 who had stayed in the Netherlands for 6 to 8 years. A possible explanation for the increased level of homesickness after a few years is that while the surroundings were now familiar, the foreigners still felt like outsiders. Also, some of them may wonder where they and their children belong. Do they belong in their current country or their country of origin?

Depression. Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is an illness that involves a constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest or pleasure. Doctors say that homesickness can have symptoms that are similar to depression, such as frequent crying, sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating, and withdrawal from society. In some cases, homesickness can even turn into depression itself.

Grief. While migrant workers and other foreigners may have moved away from home for a better job or better pay, they feel grief for the loss of the comforts of home, and for the place they felt that they belonged.

Affects productivity. The overwhelming feeling of being in a new environment and away from the familiar can lead to performance issues at work and school. Intense homesick feelings can also result in difficulty focusing on topics that are not related to home.

Physical effects. Homesickness can also lead to physical symptoms such as lack of appetite, stomach problems, lack of sleep, headaches, and fatigue. 

Know that it’s normal. Being in a new place and missing your home, family, friends, and pets, is completely normal. It means that you have a healthy attachment to your loved ones. It will take a while to adjust to your new surroundings. 

Attend events or take classes. Some companies or universities organize events for international employees or students, and this may encourage you to learn more about your new place of residence, and meet new people.

Be active. Taking part in sports and physical activities can help you take your mind off your homesickness and boost your mood. Team sports can also help you make new social connections and find social support. 

Find a new “favorite” place. This could be a particular cafe for coffee, a specific table at the library, a shady tree to sit under. It establishes a familiar space where you might start to feel more at home.

Make friends with locals. It may help you adjust more easily to your new place if you get to know some locals, especially if you’re from somewhere that’s very different. A study of African students in the U.S. found that those who spent time with American students had fewer problems adjusting to their new life.

Keep in touch. Write regular letters, emails, or call or text your friends and family back home. In a study of people from other countries working in London, England, those who kept in regular contact with friends and family back home were less homesick than those who didn’t. But daily phone calls may make you feel even more homesick. Maybe call home once or twice a week instead of every day.

Gratitude journal. Journaling can help with your feelings of homesickness. Every night, try writing down three things you’re grateful for and three things you’re looking forward to the next day.