Monday 5 June 2023

What people don’t see: my experience with loneliness at university

Emily shares her experience of loneliness whilst at university and her tips for how to make changes to help with feelings of isolation.

- Emily

Until March of this year, my university experience had been a fairly positive one. There were ups and downs, but I always felt I had a good group of friends and a great boyfriend to support me through difficult times. 

However, much of this changed at the end of my second term at university. After a tough breakup, I felt incredibly lonely and very lost. I found it so difficult to move from having someone to chat with daily to nothing. To make matters worse, it was approaching exam season: mounting academic pressure on myself and my friends meant that I was spending days and days alone. I had tried to reach out to some of my friends, but the busyness and general chaos of exam season meant that replies were infrequent. I feared that my support network was disappearing. Ultimately, my anxiety worsened, and frequent panic attacks returned after almost a year of not experiencing them. Hiding these feelings of loneliness from friends and family only made things worse.   

To begin with, I didn’t really know how to solve the loneliness I was experiencing. It wasn’t until a family member reached out that I felt able to talk about what I was feeling and what I could do to tackle my loneliness at university.   

Here are some things that have helped me to feel less lonely: 
  • I spoke to members of my support network about how I was feeling. I even found that some of my friends were also feeling lonely during exam season and were glad I had contacted them.
  • I attempted to attend as many society events as possible when the term began again. Joining new societies is also a great way to combat loneliness, as finding people with common interests is an excellent way to build new support networks.  
  • I tried to spend less time on social media. Watching other people’s seemingly “perfect” lives often exacerbated feelings of loneliness. I try to leave the house at least once a day. During exam season, I usually visited my local coffee shop to see familiar faces and chat with those who worked there. It made me feel somewhat less isolated.   

I wouldn’t say that I have found a perfect resolution for loneliness. I still experience periods where I feel out of touch with friends and family. However, I now feel more confident to ask for support when needed. Reaching out to members of a support network is so important in tackling feelings of loneliness.    

Loneliness is a truly awful experience. After my recent experiences, I see tremendous value in frequently contacting friends and family. Anyone could be experiencing loneliness at any moment. You don’t always see what people are going through, and a single message could completely change someone’s day. 

We know that experiencing mental health difficulties at university can feel overwhelming. Explore the support that is available at your university and further.

I'm Emily, a second-year History and Spanish undergraduate at Durham University. After struggling with various aspects of my mental health whilst in my first and second year at university and watching close friends struggle too, I've become particularly aware of the stigma surrounding student mental health. I am sharing my story to demonstrate that loneliness is a more common experience at university than people may think. 

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