The truth about loneliness at university
The fact is that more and more of us feel lonely. There are lots of theories about why, but the big ones include spending more time online, and divisive events like Brexit and #metoo.
As a student, you’re not immune to these – plus, you’ve got moving away from home, making new friends, and being skint to cope with. As a mature or overseas student, or if you feel out of step with your peers, you may feel particularly isolated. Any of these can take a toll on your mental health at university.
How to tell if you’re lonely
‘Lonely’ isn’t the same as ‘alone’. You can have lots of friends and still feel lonely, but you can also be quite content spending time on your own. Here are some suggestions to help you think about how you’re feeling.
Does any of these bother you?
- I don’t have someone I feel really close to.
- I don’t have much in common with the people around me.
- I don’t know many people to hang out with.
- No-one asks how I’m feeling, or how my day went.
- I don’t have anyone I can be myself around.
- A problem is getting me down, but I can’t tell anyone.
- I can’t join in with things because I feel different to others (i.e. because of money, age, disability, politics, or something else).
You may identify with one or more of these, or something else entirely. It may not be definable – you just feel like something’s missing.
There are also physical and behavioural cues to watch out for, like feeling more stressed than usual. You may notice changes in how much you eat, sleep, and exercise to cope with feelings.
How to cope with loneliness
Loneliness isn’t something you can just switch off, but there are ways to handle the emotions.
If you’re not usually in tune with your feelings, start there. Mindfulness, body scanning, or keeping a diary all help identify and release emotions. Take a look at the NHS’ advice to get started.
Even if you don’t feel like it, make plans to be around others – join societies or groups, have dinner with flatmates, or try volunteering. The companionship will lift your mood, and reduce feelings of isolation.
Social media is a good way to discover new activities, so use it if it helps. If it doesn’t make you feel good – i.e. affects your sleep or makes you feel dissatisfied with your life – cut back on screen time.
Sharing how you feel with others can be the most challenging aspect of loneliness, but it’s worth a try. You could open up to a family member or friend, or a tutor you trust – it could even be an anonymous message online, or call to a helpline. It’s especially worth contacting a support organisation if loneliness is tied in with a problem you’re struggling with alone, such as housing, money, or bereavement.
Where to get help
- Your university’s student services/support team.
- Samaritans – phone, email, and face-to-face listening service.
- Student Minds – guidance and support tailored to uni life.
- Mind – mental health support and advice (including for loneliness).
Loneliness is just like any other emotion – it will come and go, and there are things you can do to process and cope with the feelings. Reach out for help if you need it and, if it makes you feel good, be there for someone else in turn once you’re feeling more resilient.