There’s nothing so bad as feeling alone in a crowd. When you first get to college, it can feel like a pretty overwhelming event. Sure, you get to meet a lot of new people, some of who may even become your friends.
But when you’re alone at night in your room, the feeling of deep loneliness can creep in as you realize there’s no one here that really knows you. And being that lonely while at university can really mess with your head.
Surrounded by strangers, many of whom seem more comfortable with the situation than you, all you can do is smile and try to fit in. It’s scary not having your friends and family close by. You can’t just go over to someone’s house and hang out. You can keep up-to-date with them on Instagram or Facebook, but doing so just multiplies your feelings of loneliness, rather than making them go away.
Talking to your new roommates or hallmates is cool. But they don’t really know you (yet), and it seems like you’re not going to get along with all of them. In fact, you can already tell one is going to annoy the hell out of you.
Things to Do to Combat Loneliness at College
Here are a few things you can try to help keep loneliness at bay. I can’t say these things will work for you, but they do work for some people.
1. Make new friends
The number one way to deal with your lonely feelings is to make new friends. They don’t have to replace your other friends, but you do need people who you can count on and share college times with when at school. Most people make new friends at college through dorm life, a specific class where they sit next to people who seem similar, or through classes that require classmate interactivity (such as a lab partner). Others make friends through extracurricular activities, such as fraternities and sororities, band, sports, or theater. There are literally more opportunities you will have to make friends at college than at virtually any other point in your entire life. Take advantage of them.
2. Focus on the course work and studying
Some new university students put their heads down into the course work in order to keep feelings of loneliness at bay. This is a good strategy, as long as it’s not taken to an unhealthy extreme. Yes, college is all about academic learning, but it’s just as importantly all about social learning, too. The process of making new adult friends is a valuable one, because it’s a skill you’ll use (and need!) for the rest of your life. So while you can go to the library or a study area in order to feel less lonely, don’t rely too heavily on that.
3. Call someone
Yeah, yeah, I know… calling is a hassle. Texting is so much easier, or hitting them up on your favorite social app. You can try doing that, too. But also try reaching out by calling someone. Hearing someone’s actual voice seems to trigger different neuropsychological processes in our brains than simply texting. Talking to another person with whom you share a connection can make you feel not so alone in the world and remind you of the positive times you’ve shared together.
4. Explore new passions… and yourself
Out on your own for the first time ever? Now may be the ideal time to begin exploring who you really are and what makes you tick. You’ve lived under other people’s expectations and beliefs for so long, you may have made their passions and likes yours. Now’s the time to find out whether they truly are, and discover things that make you feel special. It could be volunteering, joining a social club, college governance, or exploring a hobby, the outdoors, or another activity. Try out new things you’ve never tried before! Remember, too, that nobody knows anything about you, so you’re welcome to be yourself.
5. Go home
If you’re geographically close to home, take an occasional trip home. Don’t let these trips become a crutch as you strive to become independent. But do use them as a re-energizing resource (think “energy drink”) when you’re feeling especially down or lonely.
6. Talk to a peer or professional
If the feelings of loneliness are so strong that they begin to interfere with your academic work or your hygiene (forgot the last time you took a shower?), it may be time to seek more help. (Our loneliness quiz can help you determine how lonely you are.) You can check out a free online support group for informal help, or check in with your university’s counseling center for free psychotherapy. There may be additional free resources that your counseling center can direct you to.
Things NOT to Do to Combat Loneliness
Just as there are a few things you can do to help alleviate feelings of loneliness, there are some things that are likely to increase your isolation and actually make you feel more lonely.
1. Play video games endlessly
While the inclination to play endless video games may be strong, realize that this is largely just a way to kill time outside of life. Gaming in set amounts (like no more than an hour a day while in college) is a fine way to relieve stress and enjoy oneself. Spending an entire weekend gaming (instead of studying, hanging with friends, etc.) is too often used as an escape from dealing with messiness in life — feelings, loneliness, socializing, etc. Recognize the difference.
2. Going home every weekend
Going home once in a while, if you’re able, is a great coping mechanism to help relieve stress and loneliness. Going home regularly as a means of not having to deal with making new friends and your feelings is eventually going to cause more harm than good. If a part of college life is learning to be independent, going home so regularly is fostering your existing dependence on home life. Separate yourself from it and live on your own.
3. Regularly doing drugs or alcohol to excess
Every college student is entitled to experiment a little with substances they may have not previously tried or had easy access to while at home. The key is “a little,” as drugs and alcohol can quickly become a way of not dealing with things, rather than enhancing your life. Partying with others is fine, drinking alone is not.
Also, be on the lookout for something more than loneliness in yourself. Emotions including depression and anxiety are more common among college students, especially first-time students who haven’t spent any significant time away from home prior to university.
You can defeat feelings of loneliness while at school. Just remember that you need to take active steps to do so, otherwise the feelings can easily overwhelm you and make you feel even worse.