Coping With & Combatting Loneliness At University

Loneliness at university is tough. Here’s how to acknowledge and combat it.

Struggling with loneliness? More than one in four students feel lonely at University. This may seem odd to you, especially when we’re told growing up that university is ‘the best time of your life and the place to meet your true friends. Plus, loneliness during COVID might still be lingering around and bringing up some bothersome issues.

For some, the university can be a much tougher adjustment period. This can lead to isolation, not knowing how to cope, culture shock and other things that affect our ability to make new connections.

In fact, it’s very easy to feel lonely when you add all of these factors up. Let’s dive into more of the why and how to combat loneliness at university.

How to tell if you’re lonely

Before we find out how to combat loneliness, it’s important to identify feelings of loneliness sooner rather than later to deal with the negative effects it can bring. One way is by looking out for the warning signs.

Here are just some of the signs you’re lonely.

  • You constantly feel tired
  • You don’t want to go outside
  • On the contrary, you want to but can’t bring yourself to
  • You’re buying more things than usual
  • You’re consuming more media and shows than normal
  • You’re spending a lot of time on your phone or social media
  • You feel unwell all the time
  • The thought of going to a social event fills you with dread
  • Uni stress is a lot more intense to the point you’ve isolated yourself
  • You have a strong urge to ‘hide’ under your blanket.

At university, you may often feel or think the following too:

  • “I don’t have any close friends”
  • “I don’t have anything in common with my housemates/coursemates”
  • “I don’t get on with my housemates/coursemates”
  • “I don’t feel like I can join any activities because of money/the people”
  • “I don’t have anyone to confide in”
  • “No one seems to get me”
  • “I just want to stay in my room”

All of these things can cause stress over time, make academic burnout feel worse and ultimately lower your sense of self. This is why coping with loneliness is essential to bettering your well-being.

Why is university so lonely?

man standing alone in front of lake with blue hues

“Why am I lonely?” are you asking yourself? There are lots of reasons students feel lonely at university. Some you may not even realise.

A piece published on BBC titled “Can Gen Z make friends in the pandemic era?” was pretty eye-opening. It sheds light on how making friends at work isn’t much of the norm for Gen Z folk, especially because remote working is more common these days.

However the same can be said for those studying at uni. With lectures online more than ever before, how are students connecting with their peers? It talks about the struggles some individuals faced, from moving countries to being left out of parties. They also mention really creative ways to make new friends, which we’ll discuss a little later on.

For now, here are some reasons why you may be feeling lonely:

1. Because you’ve moved away from home

Moving somewhere completely different and around a new set of people can make us feel lonely. We won’t be around our usual familiar faces which can cause us to feel, well, unfamiliar.

2. You’re finding it difficult to make new friends

Perhaps you’re finding it difficult to make new friends and it’s making you feel isolated as a result. This is quite common.

3. Things don’t feel right

Maybe you think you went to the wrong uni or student halls. It’s making you feel alone and guilty for making a choice you think may have been the wrong one. It’s also got you thinking about transferring universities but not knowing where to even begin.

4. You’re a postgrad or international student

Being a mature or international student may make you feel like you can’t fit in. It’s a sad reality and can result in loneliness during your studies.

5. Is it normal to feel lonely at university?

In short, yes. It’s normal to feel lonely at university. In fact, Data from the ONS stated 26% of students feel lonely, compared to just 8% of the general population.

And why might this be? You have to consider that you’ve uprooted yourself from the comfort of your own home to a student dorm with people you haven’t met. And even if you decided to live at home during your university studies, you’re in classrooms with people you’ve never met.

Plus, other factors may contribute to feelings of loneliness, such as not feeling connected to friends, new classmates, colleagues or your tutor.

The effects of loneliness

Humans are naturally inclined to be social. We need some form of connection with others to thrive. Even if it’s behind a screen. 

When we don’t have at least one healthy bond with others, we can begin to suffer from bad mental health, which can manifest into physical symptoms too.

Feeling lonely at uni can lead to anxieties coming on quicker than normal. Especially when presented with a social situation quite suddenly. It’s therefore important to reframe how we see loneliness and tackle it.

Here’s how to deal with loneliness at university.

What to do when you’re feeling lonely

woman lonely sunset purple blue orange yellow

Wondering how to not feel lonely? Here’s how to cope with loneliness when those feelings arise.

1. Practice affirmations for loneliness

If you’re wondering how to feel less lonely, one of the best ways is through affirmations. Believing in and practising affirmations for loneliness can feel weird, but it can genuinely help. After all, the more we tell ourselves something, we believe it to be true in good times.

2. Practice caring for yourself

Loneliness can result in depression and anxiety. These things in turn can make us feel out of whack and we may neglect to care for ourselves.

Coping with loneliness involves healing from within too. Stay hydrated, make full meals, get outside for fresh air and try to keep the area around you clean of clutter. It will work wonders for your mind and body.

3. Go to your lectures and classes

Skipping university is very tempting. Maybe you don’t want to be seen as ‘lonely’ or you feel like you’re just not up for it.

Remember why you signed up for university in the first place. It’ll help you achieve your long-term goals and even form connections later down the line when you feel able to. Plus, you’ll need to keep good attendance at university too, otherwise, you could get a cause for concern letter. 

4. Join a class, society or club online

Going to a society alone in person is very daunting. Why not pucker up the courage by doing it online instead? That way you can banish the fears of joining an activity ‘late’. Plus, if you find you’re not into it, you can excuse yourself far easier than you can in person. 

5. Get out of your bedroom

It’s very easy to potter about in our bedrooms. This won’t help you get out of the loneliness rut. Plus, we’re more susceptible to getting in our own heads when we’re physically shut off and alone in one room.

Venture out. Even if it’s for five minutes around the corner to a local shop. Do these things in small increments to increase your time outdoors. We promise it’ll help you feel less lonely.

6. Get a part-time job

Part-time jobs not only help with supplementary income, but they can give us opportunities to meet new people too. 

In turn, this will help you feel less isolated and have something to look forward to. Have a read about online jobs for students we recommend. Some of these involve actually collaborating with people and could even get you a step forward in the industry you want to work in.

7. Nurture your friendships

Reconnect with friends and/or nurture the relationships you do have. If you’ve tried your best to make new connections with your housemates or coursemates and things just aren’t working out, then this is your best bet. Your current loved ones will always have your back!

8. Take a break from studying

Ask for an extended deadline, take a gap year, and switch off during your semester breaks…Do what you have to do to get yourself to a better place.

9. If loneliness doesn’t pass, reach out

If the loneliness is really getting to you then it’s time to talk it out. Speak to your university counsellor or to an IAPT service, which is a free mental health service by the NHS. It’s important to talk through what you’re feeling to get to the root of the loneliness and empower yourself to solve it.

What to do if you have no friends

friends gathered laptop coffee phones

Have you ever said “I have no friends at uni” to yourself? Feeling lonely at uni can sometimes be from a lack of friendships at university. Sometimes, we can stop ourselves from making connections out of fear for many reasons, or, we simply don’t feel a connection to those around us.

It’s common that people who identify as introverted (*raises hand*) can struggle a little more than our extroverted pals to make friends, but it’s totally possible to make friends as an introvert, some of which involve leaning into what introverts do best: listening!

But if you’re struggling to make friends at uni, then feel rest assured that you’re not alone. Here’s what to do if you have no friends at university and want to make friends:

1. Find out what’s stopping you from making friends

Sometimes we hold ourselves back without realising. Are you scared of being rejected? Do you feel like you’re losing friends? Do you feel too much time has passed?

Rejection is normal, and while it can be uncomfortable, it goes to show they weren’t the right person to be friends with. It’s not too late to re-establish connections and make new ones, even if they’re people in your halls you meet back in fresher’s week.

Recall a memory of theirs and invite them to an area of interest you both shared, or throw a dinner party at your dorm to get an atmosphere going.

2. Think back to how you made friends in the past

How did you meet your current friends (new and old)? You may have been doing an activity of interest, a sport or at a social. Show up to more of these places to increase your chances of making new friends.

3. Invite housemates to eat together

If you feel like you have no friends at university, then just remember that food connects everyone! Plus, it gives you an opportunity to get closer to your housemates if you haven’t talked to them as much. In fact, generally hanging out in common spaces like the kitchen or living room makes it more likely for you to spark up new friendships. This especially helps when you feel like you’re losing friends and want to reconnect

Or if you’re new to the university, we’ve got some tips on how to break the ice and make friends!

4. Speak to your classmates

Your classmates are going to have similar interests to you because you’re on the same course! They’re a great place to start to make new friends.

If you’re working on group projects together, sit beside them and get to know each other. You could even schedule some form of outing after university like a bar, food, or activity that involves your area of study.

5. Join a club or society

We mentioned thinking about how you made friends in the past via interests, and clubs or university societies are a great place to make friends! That’s because you’re all there for a common reason, to do the thing you all like or are curious about.

There are societies for almost anything these days. Don’t be afraid to go too niche!

6. Join online groups and communities of common interests

Online groups, particularly for freshers, are a great place to introduce yourself and see who’s around you to connect with. Heck, you could find out who your dorm mates are before you’ve even moved in. 

7. Apply for a job

Applying for a job not only helps you get some cash in your pocket, but it also gives you the chance to meet new people outside of the university. However, you could also apply for a job on campus to meet more students, if that’s what you’d prefer to do.

8. Volunteer

Giving back always feels good and does good. Your Student Union’s website will typically have volunteering opportunities you can apply for, and you guessed it, they’re a great place to meet new people.

You could even ask a friend to join you, and if they don’t, it’s no big deal, because you’ll absolutely meet new people while you volunteer. Go in with an open mind!

9. Keep your relationships going from back home

The BBC article mentions Pranav Iyer, a scientist who move cities, to find a job can be done remotely. It meant they could still maintain connections back home, yet spend long periods of time away and know they had meaningful connections they could come back to, due to remote working.

Is it okay to not have friends?

Know that it’s completely normal to not have friends. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not weird to not have friends.

However, as humans, we crave connection and often don’t realise how just one good friend can really uplift us. But if you’re someone who likes to do their own thing and find yourself content with a lack of friends, then this is a personal choice that’s completely normal to make.

In fact, losing friends can be a good thing and can open up space for new friends, activities or more time to yourself.

Where to get help 

If you find your feelings of loneliness more difficult to handle, to the point where it’s affecting your daily life, then it’s absolutely worth seeking professional help. Some of the symptoms may manifest in the form of absence from university, panic attacks, depression and anxiety. 

Looking after your mental health during your studies especially is important to increasing your quality of life and mental well-being. Here’s where you can get help for feelings of loneliness who can help with how to not feel alone.

1. Charities

There are many charities out there that offer advice on how to deal with loneliness in the form of student resources, articles, volunteer and paid counsellors. Here are just a handful of charities that help deal with feelings of loneliness:

  • Campaign To End Loneliness
  • CALM
  • Samaritans
  • Mind
  • Red Cross.

2. University counsellor

The majority of universities will have a dedicated student counsellor to counsel students of all years. They offer a listening ear, the space to talk and the tools to help deal with feelings of loneliness, university depression, university anxiety and even advice on suspending studies due to depression. It’s a free service too, so it’s worth making use of this during your studies. 

3. Going to your GP

Your GP will be able to advise you in the right form of treatment, such as referring you to mental health service (though this can be done without going to a GP via Self Help). If your condition has been long-term and loneliness has become a factor contributing to poor mental health, then they may be able to advise on medication and strategies to improve your mental well-being.

Have you felt lonely at university? Let us know how you coped. It could change another student’s life!