Homesickness, especially in its severe form, is classified as an adjustment disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it’s often mixed with anxiety, sadness, acute longing for home or parents, depressed mood and sometimes even fear. This disorder is commonly found in children, but can appear in adults as well.

Homesickness is also something a lot of people who stay away from families and their native homes experience during a disease outbreak, pandemic, curfew, lockdowns, etc. With the COVID-19 infection wreaking havoc across the globe by spreading to 178 countries as of April 2020, and with billions of lives at risk, most countries have not only imposed partial or complete lockdowns but also put a ban on local, national and international travel.

This has inevitably left people who have loved ones staying in a different part of the city, country or world feeling anxious, scared and homesick. Social distancing and not travelling are some of the best ways to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and give healthcare providers across the world a chance to contain, and maybe even cure, the disease.

Such a travel ban, however, can lead to psychological distress and homesickness, especially if you have older parents, sick relatives, children or loved ones with disabilities and underlying conditions living away from you. Here’s how you can cope with distance while taking ample care of your mental and physical health.

Read more: Mental health tips for those who are self-quarantined

  1. How staying away from home can affect your mental health
  2. Things you should do to reduce anxiety during a lockdown
  3. Things you should never do during a lockdown
  4. Things you should do if you are living alone during a lockdown
  5. Doctors for Mental health tips for people living away from family during a lockdown

Dealing with separation from your family during a lockdown due to a pandemic can take a toll on your mental health. Your experiences during a public health emergency like COVID-19 are unprecedented, and where the spread of a highly-contagious infectious disease is concerned being worried about the well-being of family members and loved ones is quite natural. 

These fears and anxieties can be exacerbated with distance from said members of the family, especially for people who have migrated to urban centres and metropolises for better job opportunities. The economic upheaval during and in the aftermath of a pandemic can also be huge, which can also add to anxiety and fear during a lockdown.

It’s also normal to want the reassurance and backing of loved ones during a crisis like this, and so is the importance of supporting elderly, sick, immunocompromised or disabled loved ones living away from you. Therefore, there are a number of mental health issues that can come up when you stay away from your family or loved ones and a lockdown or quarantine is imposed. The following are some of the symptoms of mental ill-health that can show up, and should be dealt with immediately:

  • Homesickness
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness 
  • Separation anxiety
  • Excessive worrying about sickness and/or death
  • Fear
  • Distrust
  • Irritation
  • Panic attacks

Read more: How to protect your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

While worrying about family living away from you is natural, there are a number of things you can effectively do to reduce anxiety for yourself as well as the family members who must be craving news updates about you as well. Here are a few things you must do during a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Reassure your family that a pandemic is just a temporary phase or stage of life, and humankind will soon overcome it as long as all the preventive measures and protocols are followed properly. 
  • Stay connected via regular phone calls, video calls and other means. If your parents are elderly, be patient and show them how to use communication technology.
  • Make sure your family has all the provisions required for a lockdown, especially if you have elderly parents living in a different city. If not, use an application or call a local service provider to make arrangements.
  • Ensure all safety and preventive measures are being followed by all your family members, like washing hands regularly, respiratory hygiene, social distancing, etc.
  • Request your family members to stick to a proper routine, follow a healthy diet and get some exercise. You can also share meal and exercise times online and make it more social and enjoyable.
  • Enquire about the health of your family members and call emergency health services or your doctor if needed for any reason.
  • Keep your family physician and the pharmacist closest to your family’s location in the loop in case of emergencies.
  • Make sure your family is getting information about COVID-19 from the right sources. Conduct a COVID-19 discussion meeting every day to keep updated, and ensure that your family stays away from panic-generating media and social media.
  • Enjoy leisure times together by refreshing memories of good times. This will uplift your mood as well as your family’s.

While positive reinforcement and constant communication can help alleviate anxiety, stress and even homesickness during a COVID-19 lockdown, there are things you might consciously or unconsciously do that can trigger panic and anxiety.

These triggers should be avoided at all costs because distance can anyways add an extra load of panic and anxiety, and you are not there with your family to deal with the fallout of such a panic. Here are a few things you must not do during a COVID-19 lockdown especially if you have family located in a different city or country:

  • Do not spread or share rumours, unverified news updates or details about COVID-19
  • Exaggerating news, situations or symptoms of a sickness is not a good idea during a lockdown because it can be distressing. Avoid exaggeration whenever possible.
  • While keeping an eye on how your family is coping is important, do not try to micromanage from a distance since this can be an added source of stress.
  • If you know someone in your family is unwell and unwilling to consult a doctor, don’t let this go. Insist on calling up a doctor yourself if needed, since early detection and treatment is necessary for all diseases, not just COVID-19.
  • Do not be impatient, harsh or angry during your communications with your family. This can decrease communication or break it, which in turn can be a source of anxiety.
  • Do not let your family step outside the home at any cost, unless absolutely necessary. If absolutely necessary, the healthiest member of the family should step out for essentials and take every precaution in the process.

While you are sitting at home and worrying about your family’s well-being during a COVID-19 lockdown, you must remember that your family is also worrying about you.

Ensuring your own physical, social and mental safety is important anyway, but it can go a long way in easing your family’s anxiety during this global public health emergency. Here are a few things you must do if you are living alone during a lockdown:

  • Be honest with your communication with your family, but reassure them that a pandemic is a temporary phase and will pass sooner or later.
  • Ensure that you are strictly following all the preventive measures against COVID-19, especially social distancing, washing hands, practicing respiratory hygiene and disinfecting all surfaces regularly.
  • Stock up on essentials you need. Be practical about it and make a comprehensive list instead of stepping out too often.
  • Do not step out of your home unless absolutely necessary, and follow all preventive precautions when you do.
  • Check in on your family, friends and colleagues daily on the phone or via video calls. Social distancing is not the same as social isolation.
  • This is a good time to teach yourself some basic life skills like how to clean your home, do your laundry, cook your meals, etc. Enlist the help of family and friends online to learn these skills in a social and enjoyable way.
  • Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep and exercise daily. Follow a regular routine to stay healthy and productive.
  • Analyse your reaction to social media. If the news alarms you, limit your social media consumption to a few minutes or an hour per day.
Dr. Ankit Gupta

Dr. Ankit Gupta

10 Years of Experience

Dr. Anil Kumar Kumawat

Dr. Anil Kumar Kumawat

5 Years of Experience

Dr. Dharamdeep Singh

Dr. Dharamdeep Singh

6 Years of Experience

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  1. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak
  2. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Mental Health Considerations during COVID-19 Outbreak
  3. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare [Internet]. Government of India. New Delhi. India; Minding our minds during the COVID-19 .
  4. United Nations Children Fund [Internet] United Nations Organization. New York. United States; How to protect your family’s mental health in the face of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Stress and Coping
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