In college, it’s easy to feel like a little fish in a big pond. Even when you’re surrounded by so many people all the time, you may find yourself feeling lonely, especially when your semester is busy and stressful, a few of your friends are pairing off with boyfriends and your family is miles away.
At some point, we all experience moments of loneliness, but if you’re feeling lonely more often than not, or so alone that it’s getting in the way of your happiness and daily life, then you may need more than just a quick cuddle session with your BFF to turn those feelings around. We spoke with Dr. Kachorek, a clinical psychologist from Ann Arbor, to learn how collegiettes can overcome loneliness.
Understand that it happens to everyone
Although your emotions are unique to your own experiences, loneliness is a feeling everyone goes through at some point. Kachorek says college students are prone to feeling this way because they’re removed from their homes and previous comfort zones.
“[Loneliness is common], particularly for people who are either transitioning from a different college or a first-time student moving to campus away from home,” she says. “Typically, peoples’ support networks that they’ve established at their primary residence are no longer accessible, and as a result, that can add in feeling lonely.”
Kachorek says that the diverse and competitive nature of college can leave students feeling out of place.
“In addition, I think that comparing yourself to a diverse range of people around you, particularly if you attend larger colleges, can result in those students feeling more out of place, wondering if they belong there, if they deserve to be there or if anyone is like them,” she says.
Acknowledge what you’re feeling
Loneliness may be prevalent on college campuses, but it doesn’t have to define your experience!
“The first step is to recognize that you’re feeling that way and validate that it’s something that most people feel at some point during their college careers,” Kachorek says. “After identifying it, you want to think about in what ways you’re feeling lonely or out of place.” When you identify what’s making you feel lonely, it will become easier to address those feelings and focus your efforts.
Kachorek says “the person has to come to understand more about what [the loneliness] means to them and why and how they feel that way. Exploring more about it is actually the best way to make the feeling go away.”
Don’t try to minimize what you’re going through or tell yourself that “it’s not that bad.” According to Kachorek, that “can actually have the opposite effect because then the person feels more alienated.”
So instead of brushing your feelings of loneliness aside or trying to convince yourself it’s not a problem, acknowledge the fact that you’re feeling alone and try to reflect on what is making you feel that way. You could do this by talking about it with a friend or a family member, or just by writing it down if you don’t feel comfortable sharing these feelings with others.
You may be feeling lonely now, but you will get through it, especially if you take a proactive approach! The more you put yourself out there and open yourself up to new experiences, the less lonely you’ll feel in the long run.
Change your mentality
It’s easy to let your emotions overwhelm you and distort your perspective. When this happens, loneliness takes a hold on your life and prevents you from being yourself. But what happens when you change your way of thinking?
Instead of believing that you’re truly alone, try looking at it from a different angle. Maybe your distant friends are stressed with school and that’s why you haven’t heard from them. Maybe there are a ton of new people out there who would love to hang out with you, but you haven’t reached out to them yet. Maybe everyone else just looks like they’re having more fun in their Facebook and Instagram pictures, but in reality they sometimes feel lonely, too.
When you start to feel that you’re the only person who feels the way that you do, take a step back and consider an alternative point of view. To help you change your perspective,
make an effort to reach out to friends, both old and new, and take a break from comparing yourself to others on social media. You can also try finding a way to relax, such as yoga, to get some peace of mind.
Meet new people
You’re used to going through the motions—go to class, study, come home, sleep. What if you mixed up your routine? Next time you sit down for lecture, strike up a conversation with whomever’s sitting near you. Ask her about an upcoming assignment, how she thought the homework went or anything else that comes to mind. You may find that you have something in common with someone who was previously a stranger!
Opening up to new people helps lessen the sting of loneliness. Grabbing coffee with a new friend from class is a perfect, low-pressure way of getting to know someone further.
Morgan, a Boston College graduate, says conversation is the perfect outlet for connecting with another person, which will ultimately make you happy.
“Don't turn inside yourself, though it is tempting and easy,” she says. “Stop that in its tracks. It can be anything as simple as saying hello to the mail carrier or the person serving your lunch.”
If you’re unhappy with your current extracurricular activities (or lack thereof), it’s time to get out and get involved in something new! This is the best way to stay busy, keep your mind off of feeling unhappy and meet new friends, all at the same time.
“My recommendation to students is to really try and find a group of people that they can obtain support from, whether it’s through a church group or a sport activity or just an interest group, so that they can try to connect with other like-minded individuals,” Kachorek says.
Once you find an activity that you truly enjoy and you’re surrounded by people whom you get along with, you’ll be more satisfied, and the loneliness should pass.
Brooke*, a junior from Middlebury College, says she overcame loneliness by finding activities that made her refocus negative thoughts.
“I've struggled with loneliness since I got to college and it comes and goes in waves, but the best way I've found to keep it at bay is to get involved,” she says. “I find the more idle time I have to think about negative things, the worse I feel. Go for a run, take up an instrument, grab a sketchpad, go for a drive or even crack open the books—anything that occupies my mind makes me feel instantly better.”
Seek help if your feelings aren’t improving
“At any point if you feel like you’re at risk of harming yourself… and if you feel like your life is not regulated and you’re unable to do things that you’d like to do, it’s often a good time to consult for help,” Kachorek says. “A consultation doesn’t mean that you enter therapy, necessarily; it just means that you ask for objective, professional feedback as to whether or not the intensity of your symptoms is beyond what should be expected for the circumstances you’re in.”
If you’re concerned about your feelings, there are various questionnaires online, such as Beck’s Depression Inventory, to assess if what you’re experiencing could be depression.
“It can tell you whether or not your levels of loneliness and sadness are reaching a critical point,” Kachorek says. “If so, those people should try and look into therapy through their local college [or] university or the larger community.”
She adds that you should explore different therapy options, because what works for one person might not help another.
“Certain types of therapy can be obtained: some, such as cognitive behavioral, are quicker, but others, such as psychodynamic therapy or psychoanalysis, can help a person get an understanding of what is troubling them so that it is addressed at its core,” Kachorek says. “This will prevent a deeper issue from resurfacing via a different symptom or problem later in life.”
Briana, a senior at Georgia College & State University, says seeking professional help is important for addressing the gray area between loneliness and depression.
“Having suffered from depression, I know that sometimes it's hard to distinguish between it and loneliness,” she says. “It's normal to feel lonely once in a while, but when that becomes the norm, you're probably in trouble. I got to a point where I would feel lonely in a room full of people, and I often isolated myself on purpose. If you're doing anything like that, you should seek professional help and treatment.”
Brooke also found that her loneliness stems from depression and separation anxiety.
“For me, loneliness was definitely depression,” she says. “I've been diagnosed with depression and anxiety… so being alone not only makes me sad, but extremely anxious… it affected me in a lot of ways, particularly in that I struggle with getting out of bed if I feel really alone or depressed.”
A combination of clinical therapy and medication helps Brooke cope with feeling lonely.
“I am on a low dose of anti-anxiety/depression medication and I also go to a counselor at school when I feel like I need to,” she says. “I have a counselor at home that I touch base with probably twice a year. Both have been incredibly helpful and I've noticed a big difference in my ability to cope with loneliness.”
If you’re interested in speaking with a professional, try looking into the local counseling options at your university. Most clinics are free for students and have staff members who are more than qualified and ready to help.
It’s time to stop your loneliness in its tracks and realize that you are not alone. Everyone feels lonely at some point or another, even if their smiling faces on your Instgram feed suggest otherwise. With our suggestions, we hope that you’ll be able to conquer those feelings of loneliness, because you deserve to be your happiest self!
Do you have advice for how to cope with loneliness? Leave a comment below.
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