By Dr Dan Robertson

How to deal with homesickness at university

Homesickness is a normal part of university life. In fact, the National Union of Students (NUS) says that it will affect between 50-70% of students.

Now that you know you're not alone in feeling homesick, what should you do next? To start with, it's important to understand why students miss home.

Why does homesickness happen?

The answer may seem obvious, but homesickness actually has lots of triggers that you might not have considered.

Memories of home

For many students, the first year of university is the first time you'll have lived away from home. Pretty much anything can make you miss it.

It could be a certain song, or a photo, or listening to someone else talk about where they're from. Even the smell of food can remind you of your mum's cooking.

All of these things can easily make your new home seem second best. Shaking yourself out of this mindset is no easy task.

The new normal

When you move to a new place, you lose a lot of the ‘anchor points' in your life. These are the things you rely on, such as family, friends, a regular routine and perhaps even a romantic relationship.

Some students find they struggle to adapt to life without this familiar, controlled environment.

Expectation v reality

Many students arrive with big expectations of university life. In TV shows and the exaggerated stories you hear from older friends and relatives, it can come across as one massive night out.

However, the reality is a bit different. The nights out are real, but they're just one part of the university experience. There's also a lot of hard work to be done, plus you'll have to cook your own food and clean your own clothes, perhaps for the first time.

You might feel a little let down by this, which can be enough to make you wish you were back home.

Work, work, work

If you're doing it properly, university is hard work. There are lectures, essays and dozens of books to read, and it's up to you to get everything done. For some students, their homesickness is a simple matter of missing those childhood days when life was a bit easier.

When does homesickness kick in?

It depends. Some students feel homesick from the moment they arrive.

Others find they start to miss home after a few weeks. Studies suggest that November is the peak month for homesickness in first-year students.

Whenever homesickness happens, the next step is to find out what you can do about it.

How can you deal with homesickness?

1. Accept that it's okay to be homesick

Remember that statistic we mentioned right at the start? It's likely that lots of others feel exactly the same way as you do. It's certainly not a weakness, or something you need to hide.

2. Stay in touch with home

It's good to have some communication with people back home. A weekly phone call or Facetime is a good idea and will help make the transition a bit easier.

What you don't want to do is spend so much time chatting to people back home that you miss out on what's happening around you. This could easily make your homesickness worse.

3. Arrange for people to visit you

If you're missing home, it can be tempting to head back for a visit at the earliest opportunity. Train company Transpennine Express found that students will travel an average of 2,064 miles to visit friends during their degree.

Try turning this on its head and arrange for people to come and visit you instead. Having this to look forward to will make your homesickness more manageable. Plus, you'll have to get out and explore your new home to find nice places to take your guests.

Actually, now that we mention it...

4. Go exploring

Don't stay shut up in your room. The unfamiliarity of your new home is often one of the main reasons you're homesick.

A good cure for this is to become familiar with where you live. Find what's good about your new hometown and try to join a few clubs and societies to help you meet new people.

5. Stay healthy

During your first year of university, you've got more freedom than you know what to do with.

While we all know it's important to eat a healthy diet, try not to drink too much, exercise regularly and get enough sleep, it's sometimes easier said than done.

Having said that, looking after your overall health will have an impact on your mental health and make homesickness easier to deal with. Gyms will often have a special rate for students, so it's worth investigating this.

Want to know how to stay healthy at university? Read our 22 student health hacks.

6. Focus on the positives

There will be plenty of nice things about your new environment. You just have to find them.

It might help to end each day by focusing on something that you're looking forward to tomorrow, such as a night out with your flatmates, or finally finishing a big piece of work.

7. Talk to someone

The number of students seeking counselling rose by 28% in 2017. Talking about your mental health is becoming the norm and this includes getting help with homesickness.

Every British university provides counselling services, while you can talk to your tutor if you're finding the work hard. Alternatively, you can see a doctor for advice and support.

8. Don't panic

University isn't for everyone. However, it's important to give yourself time to settle in before you make any big decisions.

Homesickness will often pass in a week or so, especially if you find positive ways to take your mind off it.

Need help with your health at university?

If you're finding it a challenge to cope with university life, our online doctors are here every day.

Visit our Student Health Hub to find out how they can offer the help you need.

Find more health advice"