Thursday 19 March 2020

Dealing with Loneliness During University

Alyssa shares her own experiences with loneliness at university, and the coping strategies she used to help. 

- Alyssa

Many students experience solitude throughout university. For some, it's unusual to spend time away from home, while others don't want to leave behind lifelong friends. Though it's most common in first-years, any student can feel lonely. 

My university experience was at an American college, but I faced the same trials and sense of loneliness as any UK student might. I made the decision to commute to my classes from home, which made me feel especially isolated at times - both from my peers and from my family. I was so busy with part-time work, getting to and from school, attending my courses and squeezing in all my schoolwork that I had little time left to socialise. I was also very shy, and not living at uni made me feel self-conscious when I interacted with other students. 

What I didn't realise is that these other students were likely experiencing the same feelings as I was. University is often an overwhelming time, and you can feel just as lonely living amongst your fellow students as I did off-campus. 

No matter the case, these emotions are entirely normal - and you can overcome them.

How to Cope With Loneliness at University

Loneliness doesn't have to be something you live with for your whole university experience - even though I started off feeling this way and sometimes experienced it throughout the next four years, I found ways to feel less lonely, both by pushing my comfort zone a bit and by becoming more comfortable and confident with myself. 

Whether you're homesick or having trouble making new friends at university, here are a few methods to keep in mind when you feel lonely:

1. Say Hello to Others

When you see a familiar face on campus, don't be afraid to say hello. You can even go a step further - invite them to grab lunch with you or ask if they want to study later. If they decline, try not to take it personally. Start a conversation with someone else you recognise and get along with. Your classmates may be feeling lonely too - and reaching across the divide might just help you both.

If you can't find the time during your classes, look for friendly conversation elsewhere. Part-time jobs are a great place to chat as you and your co-workers go about your duties. While I didn't always have time to hang out with my classmates on campus, I became more open and friendly at my part-time job.

I was too shy to speak much to anyone when I started, but by the time I graduated, I had made very close friends and even met my boyfriend by talking to my co-workers more. Who knows - you might find lifelong friends by putting yourself out there in uni or at work. 

2. Join a Club or Society 

At first, I felt too overwhelmed to take part in extracurriculars during my uni experience. But when I opened myself up and took the time to attend university events or say yes to societies instead of no, I felt more like I was a part of the community, and I felt closer to my fellow students. 

A terrific way to submerge yourself in university life is to take part in an activity. Research clubs and societies and see what interests you the most. Then, sign up and get involved. These opportunities can help you form relationships with fellow students who have similar passions, helping you build a group of friends and find a place. 

3. Talk With Your Family

Sometimes, it's easy to fall out of touch with family and friends when you're away or busy. Loneliness amplifies this effect as you're unsure whether people want to hear from you. It's necessary to maintain those lines of support throughout your time at uni, so try to call your family and friends at least once a week. This way, you can touch base and keep up with each others' lives. Trust me, a friendly face - or voice - can really help. 

4. Consult University Resources

Even as I adjusted to university, there were times when I still felt lonely, overwhelmed or overly anxious. When I was experiencing this, it helped me sometimes to speak to my GP, which in turn helped me realise that anxiety was a big source of any loneliness and fear I'd been dealing with.

Remember, you're not ever alone. If you need a little extra support, seek out your university's mental health resources. Speaking to a counsellor may help you address the root of your loneliness, deal with an underlying source of anxiety and form a plan to move forward. 

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Sometimes you feel isolated because you're just putting too much pressure on yourself. I know that when I was struggling with loneliness, I tended to make it worse by berating myself or thinking "You do this to yourself by closing yourself off. You should try harder."

While it's important to take time and make efforts to socialize, remember - it's not all that matters. You're pursuing this course to work towards your future, and if you feel overwhelmed by trying to balance schoolwork, part-time work and a social life, take it easy on yourself, listen to your needs and trust your instincts. Yes, getting involved with your fellow students can help you feel less lonely, but don't force yourself to do everything. This can just lead to further anxiety and stress.

Sometimes, I found that what I needed was to spend time getting to know myself better. When I became more confident in my abilities and more comfortable taking time alone with my thoughts, I realised that being alone didn't always mean I was lonely - it just meant I was independent. 

Make sure to make the choices that are right for you. With a little time and self-care, you can find ways to feel less lonely and more comfortable with yourself as you take on this important phase of life. 

For further information on the support available at university, please visit the Student Minds page

Hi, I'm Alyssa, an education and student life blogger with a passion for connecting with students of all sorts. Making positive self-care choices like these has kept me grounded through school and life - and I hope to help other students succeed, stay healthy and make the most of their university experience. Follow along on my blog, Syllabusy

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