How to Tackle Homesickness

Home sweet home

It’s a funny old thing homesickness.  It can hit you at any time and can manifest itself in different ways.  You fully expect to feel some homesickness, of course you do.  Emigrating to Australia is a huge emotional upheaval.  I knew that I would miss family and friends, but I never realised that I would miss my house with its central heating and double-glazing so much! 

There’s nothing like being told you can’t do something, that makes you want to do it even more.  For me, it is the desire to travel back to the UK to see friends and family.  To be honest, I had no original plans to go to the UK in either 2020 or 2021, but now that some news reports are saying it may be 2023, or even 2024 before Australia fully opens its borders, I am positively itching to get back for a visit, as soon as we are allowed to do so safely.

Now hold on, you may say.  The UK is still slowly climbing its way out of a long lockdown due to the Covid19 pandemic.  Why would you want to go there any time soon?  Having endured the long 114-day lock-down in Melbourne during the Winter and Spring of 2020 and now being in the privileged position of leading a fairly ‘Covid normal’ life when it comes to restrictions and relative freedom, why would you even want to get on an actual plane and leave Australia? Well, the plain truth of the matter is that I don’t really want to leave what has recently been labelled this beautiful ‘gilded cage’ of Australia, but I am feeling incredibly homesick.  This is not a new feeling, but it sure has been magnified and highlighted during all those introspective moments of the last 13 months.

Cosy log fire in a lounge room

Homesickness can come in waves.  When we first arrived in Australia, the first six weeks or so were a whirl of activity. To be honest, everything was so busy and such a novelty, I pushed any conscious thoughts of homesickness to the back of my mind.  Of course, my two youngest were feeling terribly homesick, missing their friends from school back in the UK, missing their brother, missing the dog and the comforts of the home we had left behind. 

I just kept going and going, unpacking boxes, dealing with endless paperwork, buying school uniform, organising, busy, busy, busy.  Then it was my birthday and boy did I suddenly feel it!  No friends just popping in for a piece of cake, no phone call in the morning from my sister, due to the time difference, no hug from my eldest as he was finishing his studies in the UK, no birthday cards from extended family because at that stage nobody realised how long it took to get a letter from the UK to Australia!  It all came raining down on me and I felt incredibly low. 

Girl walking alone with party balloons

My birthday had coincided with a lull in the proceedings.  Life had slowed down and I realised just how much I was missing everyone.  The furniture had arrived and was organised, the kids were at school full-time, husband was working all hours settling into a new job.  At that stage I didn’t have an Australian mobile phone, nor a car to use and I was feeling immense frustration at not being able to get out and explore under my own steam.  One day I thought about walking to the corner shop for some biscuits but then realised I didn’t have any cash, nor the means to getting any.  It seemed that all the independence I had enjoyed in the UK had been taken away from me, simply because I had been busy getting everyone organised.

Dealing with the homesickness of your children can be very tricky, especially when you are feeling it yourself.  It can be emotionally draining and there are no quick-fix solutions, often hugs can be the only thing you can think of.  Even that is hard sometimes when your teen is yelling at you for “spoiling their life”. 

Intense homesickness can be all-encompassing and feel extremely debilitating, to such a point that it can feel like a kind of grief. It can consume and surprise you with the low mood, self-doubt and uncertainty it brings, especially when you know you can’t just give up the whole idea of living in a new country and head back on the next plane.  It can be downright painful watching your teens struggle with missing their cousins or struggling to try and be happy when inside there is deep sadness.  But it’s not all gloom and doom.  Things do get better and it is possible to ride the waves of homesickness if you are able to recognise it for what it is.  Indeed, it can have its positive side.  Wikipedia tells us that “In its mild form, homesickness prompts the development of coping skills and motivates healthy attachment behaviours, such as renewing contact with loved ones”.

Here are some of the steps that have helped me deal with homesickness:

Get out and about. 

Create yourself some daily habits.  Make regular visits to your local shopping mall or high street and coffee shop.  Places will start to feel more familiar to you and even when the lady at the local Bakers Delight starts to recognise you, it will give you some small sense of belonging.

Go for a walk

Head off for a little stroll around your neighbourhood and say ‘good morning’ to somebody (it’s true, Aussies are a friendly lot).  It will help you feel connected and you will also become familiar with your local streets, learn where the short-cuts are, spot the best-kept gardens and again, allow you to feel a little more anchored.

Get into nature

Melbourne has heaps of green spaces and walking trails.  Sometimes the fresh air on your skin and just smelling that Eucalyptus is enough to give your spirits a lift. Discover some great city walks here.

Brace yourself

… for the big occasions like birthdays and Christmas.  Accept that it will feel strange and plan to do something completely different to how you’ve done it before.  If you try to replicate how you’ve always done it, you will just keep seeing huge people-sized gaps.

Change your language

When communicating with family and friends back in your home country – never say ‘goodbye’, just say, ‘see you soon’.  It seems like such a tiny and insignificant thing to do but trust me, it is of enormous help psychologically, for all parties.

Make the most of enjoying all that is different about being in Australia. 

Be a tourist whenever you can and take in as many new sights and experiences as possible.  Even after 4 years we still try to do something ‘touristy’ every weekend.  We especially favour checking out some of Victoria’s wonderful vineyards in The Mornington Peninsula, The Grampians, The Yarra Valley or The Bellarine Peninsula – not something you can do in the middle of the UK!

A vineyard in The Grampians, Victoria

Keep it Real

Remind yourself that the mundane stuff of daily life occurs wherever you are.  This is particularly valuable when you find yourself viewing your previous life through rose-tinted spectacles.  It’s easy to think ‘if I was back at home now I would be socialising with friends/visiting relatives/sitting in my garden …’ But the reality is that at this point in time, right now, you would probably be doing the dishes, the school-run or sitting in a traffic queue on your way to work. This is a great tool for bringing you back to earth.

Take One Day at a Time

Sounds obvious this one but truly, taking one day at a time is a real survival tool.  I struggled with a great deal of anxiety, constantly going over the ‘what if this happens’, ‘what if something changes’, type of questions.  I drove myself absolutely crazy with this until I realised there was no point in worrying about something that hadn’t happened yet.  If you can reach a resolve to deal with everything step by step, if and when it occurs, you will ultimately gain better peace of mind.

Get your zen on 

I joined a yoga class.  It worked wonders for me.  What more can I say?  I’m sure there’s a whole other blog post I can write about yoga.  Just give it a go – or any other activity that takes your fancy.  Not only did it form a new place of community and connection for me, yoga was an extremely valuable tool that helped me tackle my anxiety. There was also the added bonus of feeling physically fitter, more energised and more ready to tackle whatever each new day would throw my way.

Limit your time on social media 

This seems a bit counter-intuitive when social media has been such a lifeline for me.  Being able to communicate with my friends and family in real-time has been so valuable but I found that I could ‘lose’ hours trying to re-immerse myself in the life that was going on ‘back there’ and neglect to look at what was going on here.  As we all know, social media presents the ‘best versions’ of people’s lives and it can give you that misplaced fear of missing out. Just remember you are only seeing a ‘highlight reel’ of other people’s lives. Most days are probably quite ordinary.

Trust Your Decisions

For the Mums and Dads out there, who feel the hurt and frustration of their teens when life gets challenging, remind yourself why you made this move, trust and believe that you have done the right thing and dispense hugs all round – even if you don’t necessarily feel like it! 

Homesickness can bring great sadness, but it is ok to feel a bit sad, try to lean into it.  Sometimes you can’t make things better immediately and that’s life.  Acknowledge the sadness, don’t try to resist it, recognise it for what it is and be kind to yourself.  It will pass.  The Covid19 pandemic has taught us that we can’t plan anything, especially trips back to our country of origin to visit friends and family.  This will be the longest period in which I have not made a trip back to the UK, nor have had visitors from the UK come to stay with us in Australia.  This is of course immensely difficult to deal with emotionally but in many ways, it has been a good thing in that it has made me feel more anchored in Australia and allowed me to percolate my thoughts on whether it’s a place I want to stay in the longer term.

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised here please reach out for professional support. The following organisations are a good place to start:

Lifeline

Beyond Blue

Headspace

The Melbourne Mum

Thinking of emigrating to Australia? Already moved to Melbourne? Find out what it's really like to make the big move Down Under.

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