Students often apply for university with the expectation that it will be the greatest time of their life. While it is true that university offers many opportunities for meeting people, gaining more independence and experiencing new things, the expectations of university life do not always live up to the reality.
The pandemic brought to the forefront many conversations surrounding mental health and loneliness, and students were undoubtedly one of the most affected groups. The Office for National Statistics reported in 2021 that those aged between 16 – 24 had suffered from loneliness more than any other age group. In fact, as many as 26% of students had experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness compared to just 8% of the general population.
UniTaskr conducted a survey earlier this year to gain additional insight into the student experience post-pandemic and found over 70% had reported feelings of isolation that had negatively impacted their mental health, while almost 40% had accessed support for mental health related reasons while at university.
Such is the scale of the problem that it was the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week that took place in May. Yet the issues around loneliness should not be confined to these seven days. It is important to keep these conversations going throughout the year, as well as recognise the importance of self-care and mental wellbeing.
Afterall, loneliness can have a profound effect on a person’s experience at university, so if you are feeling isolated, here are some steps you can take to begin addressing these feelings.
Establish a routine
Prolonged feelings of isolation can affect both mental wellbeing and your motivation, so it is important to establish a healthy routine, especially when beginning a new chapter of your life like starting university.
It can be very easy to fall into a rut when feeling cut off from the world, so taking small steps to creating a regular pattern for yourself can make all the difference. This might be through shopping on a certain day of the week, going to the gym, or simply taking a short walk. Not only will this help you avoid the temptation of shutting yourself away, but will also get you into the habit of putting yourself in more social situations.
Moving to university, where there are no established friendship groups from high school or college, can often make the process of meeting new people and forming friendships feel rather forced and awkward. Most university offer a wide variety of societies to suit nearly any interest, and these can offer a way of making new relationships that doesn’t feel so daunting, as you will all have something in common from the outset.
Reach out to others
It is easy to assume you are the only one feeling this way, but in reality, there may be many others around you with similar experiences. One of the best ways of combating feelings of loneliness is to reach out to those around you. You may be surprised how many other students are feeling exactly the same way as you.
Opening up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable about your own feelings can help to normalise these things to those around you and create an environment where they are openly talked about.
Aside from the financial benefits of picking up part-time or freelance work around your academic pursuits, it can also be an invaluable way of keeping yourself busy while adding structure to your free-time.
Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to find these kind of work opportunities, and can provide interaction with colleagues, and keeping you motivated when you may be feeling withdrawn.
Keep on top of studies
There can often be a temptation to retreat even more when you are feeling lonely or disconnected, but this ultimately only makes matters worse. It is important that you continue to attend lectures, even when it can feel overwhelming.
Try setting yourself small goals, such as introducing yourself to someone new on your course, or changing the spot you sit in, so you can continue to meet new people. Additionally, many universities offer dedicated study spaces as an alternative to sitting alone studying in your room or the library, and these can be a great way to meet others.
Friendships inevitably take time, and maintaining your attendance will allow you more chances for interaction, and the opportunity to gradually build relationships with your course mates.
By Joseph Black, Co-Founder of UniTaskr