Student Health & Wellbeing

Practical Advice - Coping with Loneliness

Loneliness is a feeling which can strike a person at any time. It is not dependant on being physically alone - in fact, it is quite common to experience loneliness when surrounded by people with whom we do not feel a common link. For this reason, loneliness can occur when first coming into higher education for the first time, or at stages throughout a student’s university career.

Starting university for the first time can be both exhilarating and frightening. Most new students feel excited by the new challenges which lie ahead and look forward to meeting new people and enjoying new experiences. However, there can sometimes be an anxiety that you may not immediately meet people with whom you feel comfortable and that you will end up by feeling lonely and isolated and with no-one to talk too. It should be remembered that this is a very common fear, not just for new students, but for anybody who is leaving behind long-standing situations and friendships and starting afresh somewhere new. Usually, this fear is unfounded, and most people find themselves making new contacts with comparative ease.

However, what if you do find yourself in the situation which you dread, and you find yourself alone with no-one to talk to? If this does happen to you, there are some important points to remember.

  • Firstly, try very hard not to panic. This is more easily said than done, but panicking will only cause you to make rash judgments and decisions, such as leaving the course before you have given it a chance. Also, when you do meet people you are more likely to make friendships if you are calm and relaxed rather than anxious and desperate.
  • Remind yourself that you will not be the only one in this situation. Again, this is hard to do because it can sometimes feel that everybody else has made their friendship groups and that you are the only person who is alone. But this will not be the case as people on their own are very good at hiding their feelings of loneliness. Also, the University counsellors know from the number of students who come to see them in the first weeks that this is not an uncommon problem.
  • Just because you are on your own does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. Self-esteem and confidence can take a knock when you find yourself feeling lonely and this feeling is normal. Remind yourself of friends you have made in the past and successful group situations in which you have been a part. There is a lot of luck involved in whom we meet in the first weeks of University-some people are lucky and “gel” with the first people they meet, for others it can take much longer to find like-minded friends.
  • Give it time. It would be nice if everybody found immediate friendships, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Just try and accept that for you, along with many others, it is going to take a little longer than you might have hoped.
  • Do things to help yourself. Sometimes it is necessary to be pro-active in making things happen. It is no use hiding away. Be cheerful and friendly with those you do meet, smile so that others feel you are approachable. Join any club or society which interests you, because shared interests are a tried and trusted way of meeting new friends. Try to be the sort of person that you would like to make friends with.
  • Finally, try and talk your feelings over with someone you can confide in - a relative, friend or one of the counsellors at University. It really does help to talk through your feelings and to be reassured that what you are feeling and experiencing is not unusual.

As mentioned earlier, loneliness may not always strike just at the beginning of a University career. Sometimes an unexpected change in situation may lead a student to feel more isolated than they did before. This can have several causes, for instance, a change in accommodation where you find yourself living with different and possibly unfamiliar people. This can often occur at the beginning of a new academic year.

Or there can sometimes be a shift within friendship groups, whereby someone who was once your closest friend becomes more friendly with someone else. Another situation which can arise is that a close friend or partner leaves University before you do, thus leaving you with a sense of loss and aloneness.

These are just some of the causes of loneliness during the course of a University career but they can have quite devastating effects on the person experiencing them. Again, it is important to remember that such fluctuations in friendships is normal and that if you can try and remain calm and cheerful, the situation will eventually right itself.

Try not to become bitter and resentful with others about the situation you are in as this attitude may only alienate people from you more. It is important that you seek support if you are feeling particularly vulnerable, especially if your academic work and exam preparation are affected. The University counsellors will listen to you and help you to gain a sense of perspective on your situation as well as encourage you to regain a sense of control over your life by finding ways to overcome the loneliness.