Loneliness is common at University and can often lead to a deterioration in our mental state. In this blog I share personal coping strategies to help you cope with Loneliness.
Going to University can be an incredibly thrilling experience for many reasons. For example; being away from home, meeting new people, making your own decisions, newfound freedom, living in a different part of the country or world, pursuing a subject you are passionate about, fewer restrictions compared to home, I could go on.
However, the whole experience of transitioning from home to university can feel daunting, especially in the first semester. For many students, it’s their first time being away from home, family, and friends. This can understandably lead to loneliness. For some, the expectations, and pressures from family to get good grades, and make new friends, all while not having enough money can lead to a deterioration in your mental wellbeing. Loneliness can also lead to other negative emotions such as low mood, sadness, frustration, anxiety, isolation, feeling annoyed with yourself, or feeling like you cannot manage.
Often the worst kind of loneliness can be in a crowded room where you just can’t feel a connection with anyone. Although you may feel so alone and troubled, loneliness at university is very common. It is a human response to the absence of something we need, and it is normal. It’s a bit like feeling thirsty as a response to needing water. In fact, take loneliness as simply a sign warning you that you need to act to improve your social connections. Because it’s common and normal, it should be frequently spoken about and normalized. This will could help others to seek help and not feel lost. The only problem with that is that it is hard to admit when we are lonely. However, talking to someone is usually a good start to making those social connections that we need as humans.
“Take loneliness as simply a sign warning you that you need to act to improve your social connections”
How loneliness can affect your thinking
Loneliness can impact on how you evaluate social interactions. For example It may play tricks on your mind to the point where you find yourself replaying interactions in your mind. You may start looking for faults that you either did that others didn’t like, or what others did that you didn’t like.
Spending more time on your own can gradually lead to you losing that sense of how to be with others socially. However this may lead to further withdrawal and isolation.
In some students, loneliness is associated with depression. This makes it more difficult to say whether depression causes loneliness or vice versa. However, the effects and symptoms can feel very similar.
Loneliness can lead to withdrawal and isolation causing social anxiety
“Often the worst kind of loneliness can be in a crowded room where you just can’t feel a connection with anyone”
What causes feelings of loneliness.
It could be due to several factors, so this list is by no means exhaustive, but these are quite common.
- Finding it difficult to make new friends
- Grappling with new social expectations
- Struggling with the pressures of studying at a new level and its demands
- Living away from what you are familiar with (family and friends)
- Struggling to get used to the new environment (halls of residence, new city, or country)
- The feeling of missing out especially if you are living at home
- Feeling that you don’t have someone you are close to.
- Feeling that you don’t have much in common with others around you.
- Not having others to hang out with.
- Having no one to ask how you are feeling
- When an issue is affecting you but can’t tell anyone about it.
- Feeling that you can’t join in with things because you feel different or due to other reasons e.g., disability, money, age, accent etc.).
Although loneliness isn’t something you can just switch on and off, there are ways to deal with these emotions and feelings, especially if any of the above factors seem familiar.
- Learn to outsource your sanity. Regardless of whether you an introvert or extrovert, we as humans rely on each other for feedback, reassurances, and cues. Making it a goal to learn to share your pain and experiences with a close friend, family, or therapist might help. Holding everything alone will wear you down quickly.
- Join student societies or groups at university (speak to Student Union reps)
- Make plans to be with others even when you don’t feel like doing so. This will improve your mood and reduce isolation.
- Social media might help you discover new activities, however, don’t rely too much on it as it may affect your sleep or make you feel dissatisfied with your life.
- If you are not used to socializing and suddenly get an invite to attend an event, you will understandably try to avoid attending. However, not attending won’t help with the loneliness, it’s therefore worthwhile tapping into the inner resilience you possess to make an effort to attend and meet others.
- Learn to control only what’s in front of you and what you can control. Develop a daily routine for e.g meals, sleep, exercise, waking up, and follow it through as this often helps with emotion regulation. A routine will also help to reduce the uncertainty which may cause anxiety and worry.
- Having a routine to rely on will help you focus on the “healthy uncertainties” of daily life such as your ambitions, goals, and opportunities.
- Finally, remember studying at university is not supposed to be easy, it, therefore, demands your absolute best and hard work. Having said that, hard work shouldn’t be something that destroys your well-being and breaks you down but rather something meaningful. Allow for time to pursue your hobbies and passions while you can! You’re already short-changed, you might as well go on and explore what interests you in the time being.
- Believe in yourself, be patient with yourself and avoid blaming yourself for feeling lonely. Be positive; chances are that things will get better with time, believe that you are going to have a great experience, but patience is required.
- For some students, the feelings of loneliness and homesickness can run a bit deeper and may not improve over time leading to other symptoms like panic attacks, depression, and anxiety. Please seek specialist professional support via your university or GP.
- Opening up to others is worth a try although can be challenging. Share with a tutor you trust, family, or friend. You could also do this anonymously via message online or calling a helpline
- To start a conversation, text ‘STUDENT’ to 85258.
Click Here for NHS IAPT – Search for free non-urgent NHS psychological therapies services near you.