When I first entered college, I was confident that I would be able to adjust well to life on campus. Of course, I knew to expect challenges. But I never thought my greatest struggle in college would be loneliness.
Granted, as an introvert, I wasn’t the most sociable person. Still, being alone had never been a problem for me until I got to college. I vividly remember sitting alone in my dorm room one morning and staring out the window at the rising sun. Usually, I would smile and welcome this moment of peace and quiet before starting my day.
But that morning, I just felt lonely. I felt completely cut off from the people around me, including friends and family members whom I love and care about deeply. Such moments of loneliness were among the most difficult challenges of my college experience.
Over time, I learned some strategies that put my situation in perspective and allowed me to address loneliness head-on. And these strategies can help empower anyone who is facing similar feelings of loneliness.
1. Recognize that you’re not alone
If you’re struggling with loneliness, know that you’re not alone in this battle. It’s a legitimate feeling — a life transition like going to college disrupts your social patterns and networks of relationships, so loneliness is a common experience, even if it seems like others are doing fine. You can’t tell from the outside what is going on inside someone’s life, and many people in college experience loneliness.
Loneliness happens to everyone, even if you factor out the college transition. In fact, a recent survey found that young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 are the loneliest generation in the United States.
When you feel trapped by loneliness, it can be easy to blame yourself and fall into self-criticism. Nonetheless, try to keep in mind that feelings aren’t facts — they are important signals, but they are a response to a situation, not a determining factor. You may feel caged-in and helpless, but this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
While it may be tempting to try to ignore your emotions or to just give up the fight, the best thing to do when you feel lonely and discouraged is to be proactive in facing these feelings.
2. Make new friends
As obvious as this seems, many young adults are finding it increasingly difficult to make and maintain new friendships. Indeed, making friends in college can be tough because it requires not only time and effort but also the courage to accept that not all friendships will work out. More often than not, the friends you meet during your first week of college aren’t going to end up becoming your closest friends.
On top of this, seeking friendship requires vulnerability — it means taking down the facade that everything in your life is perfect so you can reach out to someone else. That takes a lot of courage! It’s not easy to be real like that.
Personally, I struggled to make new friends because I couldn’t stop comparing everyone I met on campus to my close friends from high school. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to meet new friends as genuine and accepting as my old ones. Above all, I was scared of being rejected.
It took me some time to realize that it’s impossible to clone my high school friends, and that making new friends doesn’t necessarily mean I’m replacing my friends from home. More importantly, it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t take rejection as a personal failure, but as a sign that this particular friendship simply wasn’t meant to be.
I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t let fear stop you from putting yourself out there and meeting new people. Start small. Make an effort to talk to people in your dorm or classes. Your college campus ministry is a great place to start — most ministries offer small group experiences for people looking to establish and deepen friendships. You can also join a club on campus — sharing a common interest is a good way to find community and build relationships.
3. Get out of your room
When you’re feeling lonely, it’s always a good idea to limit the amount of time you spend in your room. Believe it or not, while your room may seem like the safest and most comfortable place to be, constantly withdrawing there can create a very physical sense of isolation and disconnection.
Sometimes feelings of loneliness and emptiness may arise simply because we’re lacking human contact. This shouldn’t come as a surprise — numerous studies have shown how prolonged isolation can affect both our physical and mental health and play tricks on our mind.
When you’re outside, put yourself in the presence of others by spending some time in common areas around campus. Get some work done in the library instead of your room; set aside time to meet up with a friend.
You can also explore new passions and hobbies by joining extracurricular activities such as yoga classes, music or art workshops, or intramural sports leagues. In doing so, you’ll be able to widen your circle of friends and meet people who share the same interests as you.
4. Seek help if your feelings don’t improve
College students have a lot to deal with, and it can certainly be a huge challenge to strike a balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and social obligations. This is particularly true for students who need to juggle part-time jobs with their studies. No doubt, college can often be an overwhelming, stressful, and lonely experience — a reality made all the more harsh by the common expectation that these are supposed to be “the best years of your life.”
If you’ve found yourself feeling lonely and depressed for a while now, and especially if these feelings are interfering with your daily life or sleep quality, consider reaching out for help. Seek out a trusted friend, or call a family member.
Most college campuses offer a wide range of student support services, such as counseling, mentoring programs, and peer and professional tutoring. These services are there to support your academic and emotional well-being so that you don’t have to be alone in your struggles. Drawing upon them is a sign of strength — not weakness — because you are taking steps to become more resilient and healthier. You can easily find more information about these resources by visiting your college’s website or your student services center on campus.
5. Reconnect with yourself
Essentially, loneliness is about feeling disconnected. Before we can connect with the world and the people around us, though, we have to connect with ourselves.
With so many things going on in college, it’s easy for students to overlook this crucial step. In the process of seeking connection and belonging, many of us end up feeling even more frustrated and lonelier than ever. If this sounds like what you’re going through, try to focus on setting aside a healthy amount of alone-time to reflect and reconnect with yourself instead.
While this suggestion may seem counterintuitive at first, remember that there is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. It’s possible to be alone without feeling lonely, just like how a person can feel lonely while being surrounded by people.
One way to reconnect with yourself is to minimize your time on social media so that you can focus on real-world experiences and practice mindfulness. The next time you find yourself alone in public, resist the urge to pull out your phone. Rather, tune in to your surroundings and your emotions. If you’re eating by yourself, take your time to chew and taste your food, and raise your eyes and awareness to others around you.
In all of this, you may feel uncomfortable, and you may still feel lonely — but that’s okay. The key here is to allow yourself to feel vulnerable and embrace it as an opportunity to grow. Give yourself time to adjust and find your footing — as you. One mistake you can make here is to try to become someone else or adopt a false persona to try to fit in. Once you come to accept loneliness as part of the human experience, you’ll slowly learn to use it as a tool to identify your emotional needs. When you understand yourself better, you can start to strategize how to meet those needs to take care of yourself.