You are not alone if you feel lonely at university

Posted 29 Jan 2020
By Dr Dominique Thompson

If you have ever walked across campus alone, or past the open door of a room full of people chatting, or sat close to tables of happy laughing students and wished you were not alone- then you are NOT alone. And if you want to change the situation and meet new people then the great news is that there is plenty you can do, even if you are shy, or feel awkward, or are unsure how to start.

This bog is for all of you who feel lonely but don’t want to be, who would like to make new friends, but are not quite sure where to start. If you are that person, struggling to find people to live with next year, or wondering how to reach out, then this one’s for you.

As a GP I saw thousands of young people for health issues, but I also saw those who were lost, isolated or feeling sad, anxious and stressed out. Students would say “I don’t know how to talk to people” or “I’m too shy to mix and meet new people” or “I’ve got no friends”.

Students who didn’t know where else to turn to came to our campus health service, though it’s reassuring to know that they could also have gone to the university’s counselling service, disability unit or wellbeing services. We were happy to help.

Isolated students sometimes had undiagnosed social anxiety (crippling anxiety or panicky feelings about meeting new people/ crowded places) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (both of which GPs can specifically help with), but mostly they just need kindness and support, and a few new ideas about how to increase and widen their social network and friendship group.

Having hopefully reassured you that if you feel like this, you are not the only one, and the chances are that as you walk around campus, you will be near someone who feels just like you, here are some thoughts and suggestions (many from current students I work with) about what you might try if you want to connect more:

  • Divide your life into different sections and see if you can reach out and start talking to new people: in your accommodation, on your course, in clubs and societies and in any other groups you are part of at uni. Breaking it up can feel less overwhelming!
  • Volunteer- it’s an amazing way to meet new people (who share your mindset), do something positive and share great experiences. Ask at the Students Union, or find a local charity that works in an area that interests you. Getting a part time job can have similar benefits!
  • Join a sports society - even if purely for social reasons. Team games and being part of something are so important, even if you’re not ‘sporty’.
  • Join a society or club that appeals to you: knitting, frisbee, martial arts or wine tasting, whatever you’re into, there will be a club for it at uni!
  • Channel these lonely feelings into an action plan. If you have a plan you may feel more in control. Set goals such as ‘ask one person to go for a coffee this week’, ‘walk to a lecture with someone on my course’, or ‘sit next to someone new at lunch’ . Simple goals are more realistic and achievable. 
  • Speak honestly to another person about your feelings - perhaps someone unbiased and removed from the situation- at home or at university e.g. a tutor, the accommodation team, or counsellor. 
  • Try to take the pressure off yourself to make *amazing* friends instantly. Sometimes an acquaintance can then lead you to meet people you really connect with later…
  • Arrange a FaceTime with a close friend. Try not to dwell on the negative feelings during the call - just have a nice chat as you would over a coffee, and stay connected to your old friends.

Building a network of good friends takes time- in fact it takes a lifetime, so ease yourself into it, and reach out to one person at a time, and do that in all of the different areas of your life. In this way, you can create a strong friendship group of like-minded and interesting people for life, but it won’t happen overnight!

Be brave- You can do it! 

For more advice or support check out Dominique’s Student Wellbeing Series of books

 

Posted 29 Jan 2020
By Dr Dominique Thompson