Is It Normal To Feel Lonely at Uni?

lonely woman in a dark room

All too often, depictions of students at university in film and on TV show large groups of friends roving around the city having the social times of their lives. If your academic reality doesn’t match that expectation, ironically, you are not alone – regardless of how alone you feel.

Moving away to university, whether moving to a new country or the city adjoining yours, is often an alienating experience for students. Even if your university campus is on the doorstep of your family home, it isn’t uncommon to feel cut off from your social circle as your childhood, school, and college friends as they go their own way and take their own path. It can be all too easy to feel out of sight and out of mind.

The university experience is also widely perceived as the first experience of independence for many; this can lead students to believe that they need to suffer in silence and step away from leaning on the support of their family and friends at home. Yet, social connection is powerfully invaluable; without it, feelings of anxiety and vulnerability can quickly kick in.

The culture shock of university can also lead students to feel isolated – especially international students who need to overcome language barriers to make new friends. 

Is It Normal To Feel Lonely at Uni?

In June 2022, The Higher Education Policy Institute’s annual report revealed University Students are far more likely to be lonely than any other adult population after surveying 10,000 students. 

It may not seem it when you look around your peers, but the research indicated that as many as one in four students either feel lonely most of the time or all the time. But it doesn’t end there. 59% of students reported they felt lonely all the time, most of the time or at least once a week, highlighting that there is an endemic of loneliness on university campuses in the UK. For perspective, a recent ONS study revealed that only 8% of the general population suffers from loneliness.

For students still living at home or away from student halls, it can be harder to make friends – regardless of how many people are around during lectures. Although the figures have seen a slight improvement since 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic made it even harder for students to make friends and create a social network, it is clear that there is still an isolation issue among students.

Loneliness doesn’t end with the feeling of being disconnected and alone. It is the precursor to many mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Furthermore, plenty of evidence points to how feeling lonely and socially isolated can lead to cognitive decline, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and other physical health conditions. 

How to Spot the Warning Signs of Loneliness

Loneliness is much more than feeling that you have no one to turn to or there is no one you can spend a Friday night with. It comes with a range of tell-tale signs that you should note.

Loneliness Warning Signs:

  • Not wanting to go outside or be on campus between seminars and lectures. 
  • Feeling constantly fatigued 
  • You are turning to retail therapy or other vices to quash negative emotions. 
  • You constantly feel run down or unwell.
  • You feel glued to social media apps.
  • Feeling like no one seems to ‘get you’.
lonely woman in a dark room

How to Combat Feelings of Loneliness at University?

Creating a new support system takes time and patience. The good news is that until you create a thriving social circle, there are ways to cope with feelings of loneliness to put you in a better state of mind to make friends.

  1. Use Positive Affirmations

If you tell yourself that you haven’t any friends, you will never make any, and there is no point in attempting to form those connections; those thoughts will quickly become a permeant reality. You will be less willing to be vulnerable and put yourself socially out there.

Positive affirmations can change the narrative of that powerful inner voice in your head that can quickly shape your reality. Statements such as “this loneliness will pass”, “we are all connected in some way”, and “independence is empowering” will help you to be kind to yourself when you feel isolated.

  1. Practice Social Gratitude

When in a negative frame of mind, it is easy to block out everything positive because it doesn’t fit with the stories we tell ourselves. Very few people are truly alone with no one to reach out to.

Practising gratitude for connections is one of the best ways to remind yourself that even if you feel isolated, you are still cared for. At the end of the day, write a list of all the social connections you are grateful for. Had a pleasant exchange with a barista when ordering your morning coffee? Write it down. Received a text message from a family member? Write it down. Chatted with an old friend at home on WhatsApp? Write it down. Had a quick chat with someone you want to be friends with on your course? Write it down… you get the idea!

  1. Practice Self-Care 

If your loneliness is accompanied by depression and anxiety, it is crucial to bolster your self-care routine and be as kind to yourself as possible. By taking a relaxing evening where you indulge in your favourite activities, cooking a nutritional meal or staying on top of your exercise routine, you will prove that you are worthy of love. That should always start with self-love.

By leaving your self-worth in the hands of others, you will always be prone to your self-worth and confidence slipping. While it can be a nice idea to believe someone will come along and radically turn your life around, you should always put the same energy into that transformation.

  1. Don’t Let Your Loneliness Dictate Your Schedule 

Loneliness can make the prospect of going to lectures, the library, out for a coffee where you will see groups of people having fun together, and to social events unbearable. If you let the temptations to bolt the door and hideaway win, your feelings of isolation will only exacerbate.

If you don’t feel like you can make friends with your flatmates or people on your course, join a society, club, or class where you feel like you can find ‘your kind of people’. If heading to a society in person is too daunting at first, you can always join an online group where you will find a sense of community. However, you must regularly venture out of your bedroom. Doing something as simple as popping into the shop and exchanging a few words with the person behind the counter can make a difference. 

Ways to Make Friends at University

Making friends will always be a proactive effort which requires being open, amicable, and vulnerable. While that vulnerability can feel scary, it is something everyone needs to overcome to make friends. Asking someone to grab a coffee always comes with the chance of the other person saying no. Striking up a conversation can always lead to an awkward situation where we are rudely dismissed. Everything must be taken in stride and never to heart. If you are feeling ready to make some friends outside of your course, here are some helpful suggestions: 

  1. Get a Part-Time Job to Increase Social Connections and Socialising Funds. 
  2. Think of How You Have Formed Your Other Friendships 
  3. Ask Your Flatmates if They Want to Eat a Meal Together 
  4. Join a Student Society Where You Will Find Like-minded People. 
  5. Volunteer with Organisations via Your Student Union Website

Reach Out for Support 

If the prospect of socialising with anyone new is too daunting, it may be better for you to seek support from your existing friends from home and your family. These connections will be happy to fill you with the self-confidence you need to move forward. If you need further support, speak to a university counsellor or a student mental health charity, such as Student Minds. You never have to suffer alone.

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