The lack of self-compassion could be a contributing factor in the development of homesickness, according to a recent study.
Self-compassion is defined in the study as "the degree to which people treat themselves kindly during distressing situations." The study found that having self-compassion could potentially help many new college students adapt to campus life, thereby improving their overall college experience.
"People low in self-compassion criticize themselves for their lack of social connections or inability to handle new social situations," said Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience and co-author of the study. "People high in self-compassion understand that it's a natural reaction, don't beat themselves up and even treat themselves kindly to ease their distress."
The researchers administered questionnaires to 119 students to rate their self-compassion before they arrived at college, and their level of depression, homesickness and satisfaction with social and academic life after their first semester, finding that self-compassionate people are less at risk for developing homesickness.
The findings are particularly applicable at an academically competitive environment like Duke, where students might be critical of themselves when they fall short of academic expectations, said Meredith Terry, professor of psychology and neuroscience and co-author of the study.
"We know Duke students are academically skilled and academically competitive," she said. "Self-compassion doesn’t mean you’re not focused on achievement, but that you respond to struggles with as much self-compassion as you can muster, and when you fall short you’re not mean to yourself about it."
Eeyi Oon, a freshman who related to the feeling of being homesick, agreed that failing to meet expectations played a big part.
"One of my biggest character flaws is pride. I expect so much more from myself, like 100s on every test, and all kinds of things," Oon said.
For a lot of students, however, it is difficult to connect these abstract notions with their experiences.
"I consider myself self-compassionate, but I don’t think that’s why I’m not homesick," said Millicent Sannoh, a freshman from New Jersey. "I was ready to leave home and explore new opportunities. That’s a better indicator."
The study showed that self-compassion also served as a predictor for satisfaction with social life, but to a lesser degree than academic life. According to the study, this may be because students in highly selective colleges seem to feel a greater sense of control over their ability to succeed in the classroom rather than in other social situations.
The study provides a new approach to the issue of homesickness, which tops the list of Counseling and Psychological Services' common freshman problems. Instead of focusing on how to treat it, however, the researchers looked for ways to prevent it.
Taylor noted that one of the most promising things about self-compassion is that it can be trained.
"You can work on it—it has been demonstrated that if you instruct people to be kind to themselves [and] teach them about the idea of common humanity, they’ll become more self-compassionate," Taylor said. "Some schools are incorporating this into their freshmen pre-college programs."
Training yourself to be more self-compassionate would not just help in the sphere of homesickness, but in daily life as well, Leary said.
"All students would benefit from thinking about how they compound their own struggles by how they react to unpleasant situations."