There’s not a lot that’s more exciting than starting university. The people, places and new experiences are what might define you for the rest of your life. That said, pratfalls and setbacks can occur which might turn that new freedom from a blessing into a curse. Here we’re going to help you identify when you may be falling into them, guide you on how to get out, and reassure you that you’re not alone, we’re all here together ready to help.
(Note: This is not official psychological advice. Please consult a responsible therapist or medical professional if you feel it necessary.)
You’ve heard them before, the legendary stories of Freshers’ Week parties that got out of hand; wine flowing like water, everyone having sex, an accommodation block burning down and three people ending up dead in the pool. Of course, none of that is true, especially about there being a pool. Yes, there will be a lot of people, and that can be too much for some people, but the craziness is nearly never as great as that, and also, a secret fact: after Freshers’ Week, you will never see the majority of those people ever again. They’ll disappear into the academic woodwork of student life, busy with their own studies and insecurities.
Regarding home, there’s two important things to remember. It can be tempting to visit home after a while for a weekend. This is absolutely fine, but don’t let it become so regular that it keeps you away from experiencing life at uni. Additionally, you’re going to find that your old friends may take longer to respond to messages or seem more distant suddenly. It’s unlikely it’s anything personal against you, and they’re instead flexing their own newfound freedom. Don’t be scared if they drift away for a while; the ones that are worth hanging onto will come back in their own time.
SURROUNDED BY STRANGERS
It’s the end of a long day, maybe not a good one, and the last thing you want to do is see anyone you know. It’s absolutely fine to have a few nights to yourself, especially when you’ve spent so much of the day all over the place. But when it starts to become a habit, when more evenings are spent within the same four walls than outside, you need to push yourself to talk to others. If you find that soloing Netflix in your room is becoming a nightly occurrence, you need to push yourself out of that funk.
One way to do this is to make yourself have one non-essential interaction with a person a day. What do I mean by this? Talk to someone who isn’t a checkout cashier or your tutor. See how your housemates are doing, get in touch with one of your friends. It doesn’t need to be a life-changing discussion, just a brief chat. It can be a quick catch up whilst making dinner or doing a food shop together. By pushing yourself into these activities, you cut the risk of spending too much time alone, and it gives you something to alleviate your thoughts.
Unfortunately, university just like anywhere in life has just as much chance of attracting arseholes as it does decent people. Some of these people may look to start arguments for no reason, or to be difficult just because they can (I once had a guy say that I must hate all working-class people because I was from London. This coming from a person I’d never said a word to.) Of course, stand your ground if they’re being dickish, but be aware that sometimes, you simply have to walk away. Sure, it’s unsatisfactory and not at all cinematic (who doesn’t wish life was a John Hughes film?), but it can be the best thing for you sometimes, especially if you’re already feeling pretty distant from humanity.
WHEN IT’S A DEEPER PROBLEM
Now in all seriousness, we need to talk about what can potentially come from extended isolation. This is an aspect of life where things need to be carefully considered and treated with care. If you feel that isolation is taking up too much of your life, if your mental health reaches a point where you no longer recognise yourself to how you once were, consider seeking official professional help. Your university has an obligation to provide these services, and will do so if you ask for them.
It can feel embarrassing or uncomfortable even to simply acknowledge you need help as well as asking for it. Know that it isn’t, that there’s nothing shameful in realising that you’re human and not an unfeeling machine. At points in all our lives, we need help to get through things. Yours just happens to be now, brought on potentially by the stress and maintenance of living alone for the first time. It should be noted that during bouts of loneliness, people are often more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse. Make sure to monitor how much you consume of both, and always remember, when it stops being fun, stop using them.
Hopefully these ideas will help guide you through what can be an unusual and nerve-wracking experience alongside a great time. Obviously, there are no easy solutions to loneliness, but a good start is to realise that nobody has it all figured out at this time, and that the sense of isolation and not knowing what you’re doing is not unique to you. Reach out, and you’ll be surprised how much help and understanding there is out there.