During the course of an athlete’s career it is likely that there comes a time when they must pack up their bags and move to a different location. The move may be temporary (e.g., a weekend competition/event) or it may be more permanent (e.g., a contract with a club/institution). Regardless of the type of move many athletes will experience symptoms of homesickness. Granted, many of these symptoms may be easily dismissed and have no impact on athlete well-being or performance.

What happens when homesickness does become an issue for you when you’re on the move?

Here are four valuable points to assist with restricting the impact of homesickness on your performance.

1. REALISE IT’S NOT JUST YOU

2. RECOGNISE YOUR HOMESICKNESS

3. UNDERSTAND HOMESICKNESS AND PERFORMANCE

4. BE PROACTIVE!

To set the scene, let’s imagine that right now, a coach/organisation/club in your sport offered you a professional contract. The conditions of this contract would require you to move away from home (interstate or internationally) for up to 24 months.

Consider the following questions ..
• What are some of the thoughts you might have about this kind of move?
• What are the challenges you might face?
• What kind of emotions might you experience during this kind of move?

If something like this has already occurred reflect and consider some of the challenges you are managing or have had to overcome.

For many people a move such as this would evoke a roller coaster of emotional responses, such as excitement, joy, apprehension, stress, or anxiety. These kinds of responses all occur with good reason! Moving (or transition) to a new environment can be a stressful event. We may worry about how we perform, how we will fit in with others, if we will learn the structures and procedures of the new environment, how we manage cultural differences, or how much we might miss home.

1. REALISE IT’S NOT JUST YOU

In amongst all this emotion there are a few things that we must remember about moving..
• Moving/transition to another environment is something that almost every individual will experience in his or her lifetime.
• With that experience often comes an array of emotions ranging from excitement and joy to anxiety and discomfort. These emotions are normal.
• Having these emotions is not the focus. The focus is how we choose to respond to them.

Understanding these points will help you to begin managing the impact of homesickness.

What is homesickness?

What does it look like? Imagine for a second you were looking at someone who was homesick.. What are some of the things you might notice? People who are experiencing homesickness may:
• Talk about home a lot;
• Spend a lot of time on the phone/Skype with family or friends;
• Spend a lot of time in their room; and/or
• Become visibly upset.

It is important to remember the experience of homesickness presents in different ways for different people.

What about your homesickness?

2. RECOGNISE YOUR HOMESICKNESS

You need to be aware of how you respond to homesickness so that you are better able to manage the symptoms. Here are some further symptoms you may not notice in others but need to be aware of yourself. Consider how these might affect you..
• Physical – poor sleep, appetite loss, and fatigue.
• Cognitive – obsessive thoughts about home, missing home, negative thoughts about the new environment, and absentmindedness.
• Behavioural – avoidance of the new environment, apathy, and listlessness.
• Emotional – depressed mood, insecurity, nervousness, and loneliness.

When do these symptoms influence performance?

3. UNDERSTAND HOMESICKNESS AND PERFORMANCE

The following chain of events demonstrates how homesickness symptoms may link to poor performance:

Poor management of homesickness symptoms » Poor well-being » Decreased performance in sport and education

If you are unable to effectively manage homesickness this may decrease your well-being as the homesickness symptoms start to impact how you function. For example, your attendance to training, your quality of sleep, and your mood may be affected. As your well-being decreases so may your performance. This may present as a loss of motivation to train, loss of concentration and poor appetite, possibly resulting in poor performance outcomes.

What can you do about it?

Make helpful choices about how you respond to the emotions created by homesickness..

4. BE PROACTIVE!

This involves being proactive in your new environment. How to be proactive may differ between people however some examples might include:

• Planning and/or become involved in social events.
• Spending time with friends/teammates outside of training/competition.
• Seeking help when required.
• Talking about homesickness with others.
• Developing a social support network.
• Developing a plan to learn about your new environment.
• Identifying with what you most enjoy most in both environments.

Despite how you are feeling, taking a proactive approach to your circumstance will help reduce the impact of homesickness on your well-being and performance.

Additionally, book an appointment with a psychologist at Mental Notes Consulting can help to identify and manage your experience of homesickness and help you with transition.  Seeking out someone to work with is another way to be proactive.