While COVID rates in the United States seem to be decreasing, the global count continues to rise, and international travel remains difficult. While much of the media’s focus this spring and summer has been on COVID-19 infections and deaths, it’s important to remember that a secondary cost of the pandemic has been the impact of lockdowns and social isolation on mental health. These impacts often manifest in increased loneliness or feelings of homesickness, especially for those who live apart from their families, homeland and culture.
How is homesickness different from loneliness?
While homesickness and loneliness can feel familiar, there are subtle differences in these emotional responses. Homesickness is a yearning for reconnection to a place or person that provides us with a sense of stability and comfort. While the feeling is often associated with a physical space or locale, it can also be related to a community or culture that is geographically dispersed. Loneliness, however, is a feeling of disconnect from those around us.
This distinction explains why someone might feel homesick when away from their family or childhood home, but why people are also capable of feeling lonely when around others or in their own homes. It’s important to remember that homesickness and loneliness are natural responses, and that significant life changes or transitions, such as those brought on by a pandemic, often cause instinctual feelings of disconnection.
While many families are learning to connect across digital platforms, people with families in different time zones may find it harder to coordinate virtual social gatherings.
For immigrants, and people living outside their country of origin, feelings of loneliness and homesickness may be exacerbated—especially given current guidelines on global travel. Sometimes when we have family that live outside of the country, it can be difficult to feel connected to them. While many families are learning to connect across digital platforms, people with families in different time zones may find it harder to coordinate virtual social gatherings.
Zoom happy hours and morning FaceTime check-ins become more difficult when you’re navigating multiple time zones. I often recommend letter-writing and postcards as a way to connect with family outside of the U.S., explaining that these thoughtful activities can create a greater sense of bonding and often feels more intimate.
While apps like Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, and Google Hangouts are most frequently used for live interactions, you can also send pre-recorded video or audio recordings to family and friends abroad. Recording a vlog or oral history of your day or week may feel more meaningful than a regular text or voicemail. Perhaps a nighttime recap or plans for the upcoming day can create a sense of inclusion if shared with loved ones.
Homesickness for your country of origin may be accompanied by feelings of disconnection from your current country of residence.
Homesickness is a natural response that may be a signal to seek support
Homesickness for your country of origin or cultural heritage may be accompanied by feelings of disconnection from your current country of residence. This emotional response is also natural, and may manifest as feeling that we are not understood or seen by those around us. For this reason, it’s important to seek out communities, groups, or spaces where there is common ground, and opportunities for peer support.
While in-person interactions are still risky, many cultural clubs, local organizations, and support groups have taken their activities online. Connecting with communities and groups in your area does not mean you need to ignore or reject your feelings of homesickness. We do this not in an effort to dismiss the yearning for family in a different country, but to remind ourselves of the various connections we can make today.
Connecting with communities and groups in your area does not mean you need to ignore or reject your feelings of homesickness.
The pandemic has forced many people to remain physically distant from friends and family, but it’s increasingly important to remember that safe and risk-mitigating opportunities for socialization still exist. The term “social distancing” is in many ways a misnomer, and some have misinterpreted the term to mean that all social connections should be severed. Of course most of us don’t actually want to do that, but the subconscious implications can often lead us in that direction. I prefer the term “physical distancing” given this practice may be a part of daily life for months and even years to come as reminders to stay connected to our support networks.
If you’re struggling with feelings of homesickness or loneliness, meditate on the meaning of the word “home,” and consider what it means to you.
Find comfort by cultivating your own meaning of “home”
Apps and technology that allow for social connection are crucial right now, but remember that connections to home can also be forged internally. Remind yourself of who your resources and support networks are, at times when you feel alone, or keeping a list that you can refer back to. Sometimes the simple reminder that a support network exists can be enough.
We can often cultivate the energy of someone’s presence and the sense of “home” in the ways we make space for it in our immediate surroundings. If you’re struggling with feelings of homesickness or loneliness, meditate on the meaning of the word home, and consider what it means to you. Telling yourself, “I have everything I need inside me,” can be a helpful strategy when feelings of yearning are present.
We often forget that the feeling of “home” can be cultivated within ourselves. By making space for these feelings, we are welcoming all parts of ourselves into the present moment. That in itself can sometimes give us a sense of home or belonging, because it reminds us that when we welcome all parts of ourselves – even the discomfort of homesickness – that we are still whole, complex humans.
Your Turn: Have you or someone you love ever experienced homesickness? Share what helps you cope in the comments below.