"You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That's is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."

Mirim Adaney defines very well in this couple of sentences the difficulties of being an expatriate or living far away from our family and friends. All of us who have gone through this experience know how enriching and challenging it can be at the same time.

But what happens if we add to the difficulties of living away from home (often in a new culture and with a different language), the social distancing measures, and the restrictions due to COVID? Sounds complicated, doesn't it?.

It is, and it is primarily for two reasons:

  • These measures are making the process of adapting to the new culture and the new place of residence very complicated, since they make it impossible or difficult to establish new social relationships and maintain regular routines such as going to the gym or attending language classes in person (places that foster the creation of new friendships and relationships as well as the establishment of routines that help us feel "at home").
  • It is much more difficult, and in some cases impossible, to visit or return home to take a break, rest, and connect with our roots.

This feeling of being between two worlds, it's accentuated because, on the one hand, we cannot fully connect with the new one (establish new connections, have a satisfactory social life, go out, travel, get to know this new place, its culture, and its people) and on the other hand, we feel and are physically farther away from our roots.

In short, the process of cultural adaptation becomes much heavier and more difficult, and the impossibility of returning home is added, which produces tremendous homesickness or what we call in Spanish "MORRIÑA".

Homesickness is the feeling of sadness or grief that one feels when being away from one's homeland or loved people or places. And this very natural feeling that we experience when we are away from home is tremendously exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding us these days due to the pandemic's consequences.

Previously, a great way to deal with this sadness was to sign up for activities that facilitated social contact, to plan the next vacation to go home, to have a definite date that allowed us to cross days off the calendar, but now, with the restrictions that accompany us, this becomes tremendously difficult and even impossible to carry out.

When we enter into this state of homesickness, we may experience challenging emotions and feelings such as sadness, fatigue, inability to concentrate, frustration, tiredness, anger... And although all of these are considered completely normal, sometimes they are very unpleasant, and the intensity can make us need some help to deal with them.

So what can we do if this happens to us?

Well, first of all, understand that what we feel is entirely normal.

As we have explained, living away from home, although it is a super enriching experience, always entails a certain degree of difficulty that is exacerbated by the current situation we are dealing with. Be patient, be aware that much of what happens is caused by the context, allow yourself to "feel sad" at times, and ask for help if necessary.

And from here, look for solutions that make us deal with this situation and symptomatology in the most positive way possible. For this, here are some tips and ideas that can help us to cope and improve our mental health in situations like this:

Find peers:

Although our idea may be to try to interact as much as possible with locals, it is always important to also have the possibility to talk to people in your same situation with whom you can share what is happening to you and what you feel. If possible and if you are from another country, if these people are from your culture and speak your language, it will help you feel closer to home. There are plenty of online groups and communities to connect people, as well as applications that are designed to make friends. Internet will be your best ally, research and find out what resources are available to you.

Stay active and pay attention to your routine:

Although it can be difficult to adapt our rhythm to the restrictions, we can always find alternatives and safely adjust and do the same activities in a COVID-free way. Try always to keep your sleeping and eating schedules as well as doing sports activities. If access to gyms is not yet an option in your city, try to practise sports outdoors or at home. Through the internet, you can also find applications and groups that can help you in this regard.

Stay connected to your roots:

Communicate with home, plan video calls with family friends, and as much as possible, try to plan activities with them. We just need a little imagination; we can cook together, eat together, go on a date, watch a movie, play online games... think about what you used to do together before and look for an alternative. Not everything has to be online communication; sometimes, sending each other letters, postcards, or photos can make us feel closer to home.

Find items that you miss:

Many times, we miss not only family and friends but also our favorite foods or products. Try to find a store that sells native products of your country or ask a family member or friend to prepare a package for you. Not only can it include your favorite cookies or sauces, but also items that make you feel close to home.

Try to connect with people in your city and make friends:

Using your hobbies for this can be a great idea. Look for activities that you enjoy and that can be done safely; you can sign up for classes or connect with people who have the same interests as you. This will gradually make you connect with new people, increasing your social circle while you enjoy and relax doing an activity.

If, after trying all this, you still have difficulties and these emotions affect and tarnish other areas of your life, remember that you can always ask for professional help.

Talking about our pain does not make it bigger; it helps us to alleviate and heal it.

Saray Cáliz Aguilera
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Saray Cáliz Aguilera
Languages: English and Spanish
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