‘I often feel embarrassed to admit I feel lonely, as I think it’s expected for University students to always be having fun,’ says 20-year-old Kate from Liverpool.
‘Especially since Covid and being stuck at home, now restrictions are lifting I find it more embarrassing to still be feeling lonely.’
Student days are hyped up to be the most fun and liberating times of our lives – but that isn’t always the case.
The pandemic has made loneliness rife among student populations, and young people are struggling to cope.
With many having had a ‘false start’ to university life – locked inside and catching Covid – they’re still feeling the brunt of this experience on their social lives.
Kate tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The lack of intimate or “real” relationships means I’ve often struggled with feeling lonely, even when I’m surrounded by many people, it can leave me feeling very disconnected with society and life.
‘Having university moved all online has made me feel trapped in my bedroom too.
‘I wasn’t able to make many friends at university especially during freshers, which has me feeling quite alone and sad.
‘Even since restrictions have lifted, my loneliness still remains. And I feel like I have missed out on opportunities that I’ll never get back.’
She struggles to admit to feeling this way with friends and family due to the idea that since restrictions have lifted, she ‘should’ feel normal again.
The notion that when ‘Freedom Day’ came, life would suddenly return to normality, was a hope for many people. Kate, like many others, knows that this wished-for freedom never materialised.
‘I still have feelings of loneliness, which I didn’t expect – this makes it even harder to talk about. I haven’t told many people,’ she adds.
A study conducted by Four Nine, a women’s interest social media-first publisher, and YouGov found that 41% of full-time students feel more lonely now than they did pre-pandemic.
It’s an experience that female students are finding to be true slightly more than men, and 52% of women surveyed said that they feel uncomfortable talking about the issue because they feel embarrassed.
Beyond this, 20% feel there is shame around admitting you feel lonely, and 43% worry they would be a burden to others if they opened up.
Naturally, this is having a negative impact on the mental health of students, with over two-thirds believing this to be the case for themselves.
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, who is supporting Four Nine’s New Year’s Revolution campaign, said: ‘We know that human beings can be profoundly impacted by loneliness, we are inherently social and so connection and interaction is a fundamental human need that is core to both physical and mental health.
‘There are several studies to suggest that loneliness and the lack of social connection can have a profound impact on wellbeing and mental health, which often leads to more social isolation as a means to cope – setting up a vicious cycle that is difficult to break out of.
‘Finally, living through a pandemic, which in effect requires people to self-isolate, has meant that we have encouraged a type of social anxiety which not only feeds into loneliness but has the potential to make it more difficult to re-engage with others.’
Loneliness has impacted Amy, a 19-year-old student in Nottingham.
It’s not just about socialising – it has also affected her support network.
‘I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about things that were worrying me, which ultimately resulted in a decline in my confidence,’ she tells us.
‘Since the pandemic I have felt more lonely, which is heightened by being at university where I spent most of my day inside a tiny flat.
‘It has eased slightly as Covid restrictions have lifted, but I still get lonely and home sick regularly. Once a feeling of loneliness has set in, it’s hard to shake.
‘It can be embarrassing to feel lonely as a student.
‘I am now an adult and feel as though I should be independent, which makes it hard to admit feelings of loneliness to other students, but I feel a lot of us are in the same boat.
‘Our university does offer help to students such as quiet areas and people to talk to however this can also feel embarrassing and is very much stigmatised amongst students.’
During a life stage in which social clout is everything, admitting to this experience can be uncool and daunting.
Some feel not enough is being done to support those feeling lonely – with 59% agreeing to this in the aforementioned survey.
Though rarely spoken of, loneliness is a common emotional symptom of the last two years.
Combatting feelings of loneliness
Psychologist Alex Frenkel has five top tips for loneliness.
Exercise: ‘Exercising is hugely beneficial in tackling loneliness and situational depression. Through group exercise classes, we not only get a sense of human interaction, but we also get our bodies moving. When exercising, our body releases endorphins, which helps to boost our mood and reduces our perception of pain. Exercise also helps tackle insomnia, as it helps to reduce stress and tires you out.’
Routine: ‘Solitude has become the new normal, so a strict routine is highly encouraged. Creating a balanced routine gives you things to look forward to, helps you plan your time and manage your work/life balance better.’
Breathing: ‘You don’t always need to push away the troubling thoughts that accompany loneliness. If it arises, simply accept it, breathe into it, and when breathing out, know that this is a temporary feeling. There are lots of breathing techniques online that can be used to lower the anxiety triggered by loneliness.’
Journaling: ‘Instead of allowing loneliness to consume you, write your feelings down, so you can reflect on them from a distance. You will realise loneliness is just a feeling and doesn’t define you. Journaling allows you to be free of your negative thoughts and helps to refocus your attention away from the bad.’
Plan things to look forward to: ‘During the pandemic, there has been a lack of physical plans to look forward to. However, try to fill your diary with social arrangements – including video calls with your friends and family and online classes or a seminar – to help boost your mood.’
If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, the Samaritans are free to call on 116 123 any time of the day.
To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.
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