Homesickness has a new meaning, and a new cure


Camille Brayshaw/Fourth Estate

Home doesn’t feel the same anymore. The walls of my room appear to be slowly closing in on me while my legs shake restlessly in back-to-back Zoom classes. I’m not under house arrest, but I never leave the house. I’m getting homesick at home. 

It’s not the type of homesickness that freshman college students struggle against. According to a 2015 UCLA Higher Education Institute survey, 69 percent of college freshmen said they felt homesick. I certainly know how that experience plays out. 

I remember my days as a freshman spent longing for my old room where I felt some sense of control. I was familiar with every inch of every corner. There was no surprise or uncharted territory in my room. I was safe there.

The same is true today. With a highly transmissible virus raging across the world, our homes continue to be the safest place for us to be. This pushed many college students online instead of on campus, making homesickness much less of a concern. But like us, homesickness had to adapt to COVID-19. It decided to take on a whole new meaning.

When most people hear the word “homesick,” they typically think someone misses their home. This definition is distinctly similar to the origins of the word “nostalgia.” Everyone has their own moments of nostalgia. Whether you hear a song that takes you back to a better time or eat a food that reminds you of better days, you have experienced it.

Nostalgia is the bittersweet feeling of returning to a great memory and knowing you’ll never get it back. According to Merriam-Webster, the Latin suffix “-algia” means “pain,” and “nost” means “homecoming.” 

Whether you call it nostalgia or painful homecoming, people are getting homesick. This is incredibly hard to reconcile, considering that if you don’t want to get sick, you should probably stay home. But that doesn’t stop people from becoming uncomfortable in their spaces of comfort.

Yesterday, I decided I would shake things up and go find somewhere new to study. I ended up driving around for an hour, unable to find any place that was open for seating. Starbucks was too packed to find a seat and all the libraries near me are still closed. This left me with the only option I’ve had for the past seven months: home.

The weird part is, I returned feeling genuinely better. I felt refreshed and energized. What did that hour of driving give me that I had been missing for so long?

Exploration. The cure for homesickness is exploration. Think about the problems that homesickness poses to the average person. Most of them can be solved by a bit of healthy exploration.

Do you feel like the constant flow of information is overwhelming? Well, you should probably put down the screens and explore a new activity. Are you tapping your feet wishing that you could get away from your desk and stretch your legs? You might want to get moving and go see something new. Most importantly, exploration gives us a key sense of novelty that infuses us with happiness.

Psychology research has shown that novelty helps mediate the experience of happiness associated with travel. Additionally, novelty has a powerful effect on focus. It gives the brain more access to dopamine that can drive focus. This allows us to perceive the world with less metaphorical noise. 

Exploration isn’t just about improving physical well-being, but mental well-being too. I’m not just speaking from personal experience. Research from New York University and the University of Miami upholds my case by saying “new and diverse experiences are linked to enhanced happiness.”

Getting away from your home is the best way not to get sick of it. However, I’m aware that some people don’t have that option. The good news is that exploration can take on many forms. You can explore a new daily routine by cooking a new dish or watching a new show. Not every bit of exploration has to take you outside. You don’t have to choose between homesickness and safety. But if you decide to go out, make sure you are doing it safely.

Home isn’t always the place you lay your head down at night. Some may feel at home at school. Some may feel at home at work. Some may even feel like home is a person they love. Regardless of where or who or what your home is, you can get sick of it.

While COVID-19 may not have a cure yet, homesickness does. Go explore. Maybe home will start to feel like home again.