Many people associate university with being one of the times in life that we have the most connections – with friends from courses, societies, flatmates and more. However, loneliness and being physically alone are two different experiences. More than 1 in 4 students have dealt with loneliness while at university and over 27% of students have reported struggling with their mental health. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme for 2022 is Loneliness, so let’s have a look at ways in which students can combat feeling lonely at university.
Socialise with people that you feel comfortable with
Being surrounded by people can often trick your mind into thinking “I’m not allowed to feel alone when I’m with around this many people!”. But the reality is, regardless of how many people you spend time with, if you hide parts of yourself or don’t connect with them on a level that lets you feel comfortable then you are subconsciously isolating your true self. The times I have felt the most alone are when I’ve been in a group of people trying to socialise and I think “If I just left right now, no one would even notice/care.” Its sad to have these thoughts, but it should be a wake-up call to realise that you are with the wrong people. It’s easier said than done to just step away from a group of friends, let alone curate a brand new clique of perfect people, but it’s the first step in recognising that you don’t have to put up with this feeling and loneliness is temporary. You have the ability to change how you feel.
Recognise why you feel lonely
Its Friday night and you’re sat at home rewatching your favourite show on Netflix for the fifteenth time. You’re swiping through stories on Snapchat – your whole flat and half of the Uni are at the club in town tonight, and you’re living vicariously through boomerangs and heavily filtered snaps. A feeling in the pit of your stomach emerges suddenly, and you feel your mood drop. This is the point where you can recognise why you feel lonely. Does this feeling of loneliness develop because you feel you are missing out on memories and experiences that others are enjoying? Do you feel lonely due to being in your own company because it leads to overthinking and there aren’t any distractions from your thoughts? Or maybe you feel this sense of loneliness because you are notable to connect with a person in a way you used to, (such as the result of a breakup, end of friendship, bereavement or distance from family) and this has left an empty hole in your life.
Work on the root of the problem
Each one of these situations requires a different approach to combat loneliness. Loneliness as a result of fear of missing out or not being invited to things relates back to Self-Worth. Not feeling included can induce thoughts of negative self-worth or not being good enough. The best way to combat this feeling is to work on your self-confidence, practice words of affirmation and focus on the qualities you love about yourself and learn that other people should not be able to impact your self-worth that easily. If you get to a point where being left out from things doesn’t change how you view yourself, then the feeling of loneliness won’t be able to take control of your life.
Learn to love your own company
Being comfortable in your own company is something which most people find difficult to do at university. We have gone from living at home our whole lives to suddenly experiencing a lot of time completely by ourselves. Intrusive thoughts and overthinking are two mental health difficulties which lead to feeling lonely, so in order to combat this it’s vital to work on enjoying being alone. Ways to start this include engaging in self-care activities by yourself that make you feel good, such as having a relaxing bath, eating your favourite meals and snacks, engaging in activities that stimulate your mind and keep you occupied such as video games, painting, reading and playing instruments. Once you no longer fear being on your own, the feelings of loneliness will subside.
Put yourself out there and form new connections
If you’ve lost your close connection for whatever reason and this is the root cause of your loneliness, then it might be time to find someone new to share special moments with. From the outside, it may appear that people at uni all have close friends, but this is not reality. The best way I have found to make genuine friends at uni is to join a sport/society that you have interest in, because then you meet people who have that interest in common with you and you are more likely to have similar lifestyle approaches. However, if you haven’t got the time to dedicate to a society, or don’t have a specific interest, try to sit next to some different people in your lectures and start up a general conversation during breaks or through group work etc. It can be scary and anxiety inducing, but the results will be worth it to make connections and combat those feelings of loneliness, and chances are that person might just be feeling the same way as you!
It is important to remember that people come and go during different stages of our lives, and experiencing loneliness is common and normal to go through. Loneliness is a temporary feeling, despite how permanent it may feel in the moment, and there are always people, especially while at university, that you can talk to and provide help for managing these emotions.
If you feel you are struggling severely with loneliness or any other mental health difficulties, do not hesitate to contact any of the free resources available such as Samaritans, Mind, NHS and WellMind app. There is always someone to talk to, and things will get better.