For many young adults, college is the first time they live independently. For others, it may be the first time they’ve had to dive headfirst into the social waters of adulthood without the safety nets of family or childhood friends.
A sense of social isolation is a common experience when trying to settle into a new environment. For example, a recent study of 10,000 university students in the UK found that 59% of students said they were lonely most of the time, all of the time, or at least once a week, a percentage much higher than in the general population.
Many colleges offer opportunities for creating social connections. Teams, clubs, and events are often put into place on college campuses to assist in socialization. Although it may feel challenging to meet people, there are a few ways to attempt it.
Remember That College Is Often A Transitionary Period
Many individuals experience transitions throughout life, such as moving, getting married, having a child, or taking on a new career. Being a college student can be one of those stages.
College is often a space where people feel pressured to perform well academically, plant the seeds of their future careers, and simultaneously have a healthy social life. These responsibilities can feel pressuring for young adults trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
It’s not unusual for college students to put their social life on hold to focus more on academics, but that’s not the only factor contributing to college loneliness. A 2018 study of German college students linked higher rates of loneliness to people struggling with physical inactivity, cultural differences, and other factors which created barriers to integrating with new social circles. One potential takeaway from the study was that these problems are often traceable to the struggles of transitioning into a new environment.
If you are struggling with transitioning from home life to college life, know that periods of change are often emotionally difficult. It may be rewarding to accept that you’re struggling with your transition and remind yourself that many people in your position have difficulty adjusting. Being patient and not pushing yourself too hard might also benefit you.
Escape The Social Media Trap
You may experience loneliness in college due to social media. Feeling the need to compare your personal life to the externally presented lives of others can have harmful effects. Although it is natural to do, it may cause self-esteem issues.
In a piece for the New York Times, Cornell student Emery Bergmann described her experience of loneliness as a college freshman: “The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely… I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.” She reported that her cycle of self-doubt and blame made the first months of college life challenging.
As she tells it, one aspect of Bergmann’s struggle was that she felt stuck in the trap of comparing her inner life to the lives people projected on social media. In her piece, she urges her readers to remember that “social media is not reality.” This idea resonates with the findings of studies on the connection between social media usage and loneliness. Contrary to what the term “social media” might suggest, research shows that overusing social media is commonly linked to feelings of isolation and loneliness. It may also have negative impacts on body image.
Limiting social media use may be beneficial for those who relate. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania, titled “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” found that undergraduates who limited their social media usage to 30 minutes per day experienced a significant decrease in their loneliness.
Young adults struggling with loneliness may take refuge in social media distractions. Even though they think it may make them feel better, it could have the opposite effect. If you think social media exacerbates your loneliness, consider a “social media diet.” For example, you might try limiting your usage to 30 minutes per day, like the students in the study mentioned above. Find a time that works for you and try to stick to it as long as it doesn’t cause more stress or isolation.
Try Joining A Club
Many colleges and universities have a wide variety of student and faculty-run clubs open to anyone. These clubs might present opportunities to meet people with similar values, backgrounds, and recreational hobbies.
By creating spaces based around common interests, college clubs may allow you to break down social barriers that you may be struggling with. If you need a few suggestions, you might find the following types of clubs at school:
Sports: Group sports, like softball, soccer, frisbee, and kickball, or games, such as chess, are often helpful for meeting people who like to be active and have a friendly competition.
Food/Cooking: Food or cooking clubs may allow people to cook meals from different countries and cultures, and you could learn a new skill.
Academic: Academic clubs might allow individuals to learn from one another and talk about topics related to their studies or interests outside of their major.
Politics or Culture: Clubs based on politics or culture may allow you to get to know others with the same values, backgrounds, and interests. Consider looking for clubs based on the kinds of films, music, or books you enjoy.
Debate: A debate club can be a way to learn public speaking skills and hear various opinions.
Art/Creativity: In an art club, you might create art alongside other creatives and find people who enjoy your hobbies.
Support Groups: Colleges may sometimes have support groups for those experiencing a mental health condition, loneliness, or another stressor. If you’re struggling at school, you may make friends in a support group.
Suppose you’re unsure how to track down a club that suits your interests. In that case, they may be advertised on college websites, social media, or common spaces like libraries, cafeterias, or auditoriums. Alternatively, if you feel ambitious, you could start your own club. It may take work, but it also allows you the freedom to pick whichever interest best suits you.
Start Or Join A Study Group
At times, academics may get in the way of socializing, particularly during stressful times like exam periods. When school commitments feel like they’re preventing you from spending time with others, you might try to join a study group.
While focusing less on socializing, these groups can allow students to feel less isolated while getting their work done. Everyone in the group may come together toward a common goal—learning. You might also get to know your study partners over time and become friends as you have more conversations.
Get Off Campus
If you’re living in the dorms at your college or university, you may feel limited to the boundaries of the school campus. However, if you find that campus life is not meeting your needs, it may be worth exploring the world outside your school.
If you’re in a populated area like a city or large town, look into local cultural establishments like museums or theaters, which may have their own communities for you to join. Libraries might also have groups, contests, or social events.
If you’re in a more isolated area, it may be worth looking into outdoor opportunities, like hiking clubs or horseback riding. You might check if your college has an outdoor club that engages students with hiking, climbing, paddling, or other nature-based activities. Time spent in contact with nature has been proven to improve mental health, including reducing feelings of loneliness. Even if you don’t have entry to an outdoor club, you might find others willing to spend some time outdoors, even if it’s just a short walk.
Talk To A Professional
One of the difficulties of loneliness can be feeling like you need to talk to someone about your loneliness and feeling worse when you don’t know who to talk to. If you struggle with that mindset, talking to a mental health professional may be helpful.
You might find yourself too busy or out of money to attend traditional therapy in college. If you’re looking for an affordable option, online counseling through a platform like BetterHelp might benefit you. One study on combating loneliness with online therapy found its subjects to have a significant reduction in feelings of loneliness after 12 weeks. The research showed that, while face-to-face treatment is also effective, the availability and comfort of online therapy provided significant benefits to its patients.
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