Returning to Uni after the Christmas break, with lots of people around you, you might not expect to feel lonely. And yet, simply being in the midst of lots of people, doesn’t mean you won’t experience a ‘feeling’ of loneliness.
When asked about loneliness, people usually say it is caused by one of two things: Either, being isolated – which might include not speaking to or seeing other people very often; or it’s the feeling that although you are with other people, it seems they aren’t concerned about you and that you aren’t really understood; Perhaps this is how you are feeling.
Feeling lonely can be something that you experience just for a day, or it can be longer-term. If you have been feeling like this for a while, then perhaps it’s time to do something to help yourself, or to ask for help from others.
The mental health organisation Mind (http://www.mind.org.uk/) say you should think of loneliness as being a bit like hunger. Hunger is your body’s way of reminding you to eat. Loneliness is the mind’s way of letting you know that it wants to socialise. So what is socialising? Socialising doesn’t just mean going to a bar or clubbing; it can mean watching a TV series with someone else, playing a board-game, or chatting and hanging out in one of your rooms or kitchen together. It’s all about making a connection with someone.
Try to make the most of other people’s company. When you are in a crowd, sit still and listen. Most people are very keen on being listened to, so you’ll make a welcome addition to a group. Even though it might be hard to do, try to make eye-contact with the others so they know you’re interested and taking in what they’re saying.
If you aren’t sure what to talk about, try asking someone about themselves. Most people are willing to open up on a neutral topic, and this can lead to finding out about each other. What are neutral topics? Very simple ones are what subject they’re studying and what made them choose it; Where they come from; Do they have brothers and sisters? What do they do in their spare time? Then, how about music preferences? Favourite TV shows? YouTube clips they’ve seen recently? Be prepared to share some of your own answers to these questions though, so it doesn’t just become a long list of questions!
It may be that you need some quiet time- we all do after a busy day. However, sometimes you may notice that you feel like hiding from the world and others, by playing games on your phone. While this sometimes works in the short-term, helping you feel less awkward, in the long-term it cuts you off from contact with people around you, leading to a deeper feeling of isolation. Could you keep your phone in your pocket and know that it’s there, while trying to get to know people? Then you will seem more approachable, and it’s more likely that someone will respond and smile back at you.
Perhaps it feels like you have such a unique attitude to life that no-one else could understand how you feel. So although you know plenty of people, you miss feeling close to them because you assume they can’t empathise with you. But could you be mistaken? Think about the others you live with. Who’s the most on your wave-length? On your course, who seems most similar in outlook? If you can find the courage to open up and tell them a bit about yourself, you could eventually build a friendship.
There are other ways to overcome loneliness: If you missed joining a society or club at the start of the year, you could always try it now; RUSU has a list of the clubs and societies who always welcome new members – whatever the time of year.
How about joining an online community that’s focused on an interest you have? Remember to keep safe online. Take a look at our ‘Personal safety at university’ leaflet – It’s on the Essentials page under Support and Wellbeing.
Maybe you could consider some volunteering in your spare time? Charity shops are always grateful for an extra pair of hands, and you’ll meet people on the staff team, as well as customers. If you don’t want a regular commitment, RUSU organise a number of volunteering events, including one-off events: https://www.facebook.com/RUSUVolunteering
Or maybe you could get involved in volunteering as a student tutor in one of the local schools – just contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you feel loneliness is impacting on you severely, Mind is a mental health charity that can provide online/phone support:
Mind’s Infoline: 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 123 3393
Mind says: “Elefriends is a supportive online community where you can be yourself. We all know what it’s like to struggle sometimes, but now there’s a safe place to listen, share and be heard.” Elefriends.org.uk
Pick up our Reading Uni leaflet on “How to gain Social Confidence”, from the wall pockets in the first floor corridor of the Carrington building.
If you’re really struggling, don’t forget the Counselling Team is on campus. Come in to Carrington Building, room 106 and register any weekday between 10 – 4. We’ll contact you soon with an appointment to speak with a counsellor about how you are feeling.