Thursday, 18 April 2019

Are You Feeling Lonely at Uni? Don't be Ashamed!

Preliminary Note (not sure what to all this): 

Feeling very nervous about writing this. Throwing myself in the deep end here but knowing that I would have benefited from hearing or reading similar experiences from other students made me rethink about my decision to not post.

Amongst being filled with all of social media posts showing the ideal uni friendships and social lives, I know that someone somewhere needs to know that this isn’t something that they should feel ashamed of, and that it’s a reality that a more students than we realise go through (though it seems far from it). If this is you, please know that there is nothing wrong with who you are. For some of us it just understandably takes a bit more time.

Extra Note: thank you to my buddies for reading through this and giving me the post approval!

Extra extra note: I did do a group project (a blog post) on a very similar topic a while ago, so if you happen to notice a few similarities, that’s why! I may have integrated some of the points I made on that post into this one!

Anyways, here goes...

Going to university on your own, without any of your friends, is probably one of the many unnerving thoughts that goes through a prospective student’s mind.

We always hear that "making friends will be easy" at university as no one knows anyone else, but I think that the ‘art’ of friendship making at university is relatively understated. Getting along with other people and forming friendships are two very different levels.

Upon entering university we’re all at a point where we feel quite vulnerable. Most of us are away from home, our family, and friends. Some of these friendships we leave behind will be long-term; grounded ones.  Then there’s the social pressure which comes along with the stereotypical atmosphere surrounding student social life.

Now, Freshers Week… 
*Insert a very looooooooong pause here*
Not got much to say about it to be honest. All I remember were the Psychology sessions.

IsabellaMendes | Pexels
If you are the clubbing/party-type  of person, you probably will have a plenty of stories to tell, but like many other students I’m not. Chances of me getting squashed is p < .05 (translation: pretty high), because if you know me, I’m pretty tiny. Also, not everyone likes large crowds, loud music, or going out late.

Whilst universities do try to integrate activities for those who aren’t fond of that sort off atmosphere, they all get lost amongst all the typical student nightlife. As a result, all you ever hear about are the clubs and parties and ‘extreme’ social events.

This party/ drinking culture probably contributes to a large part of feeling socially disconnected.

With this, our friends like to send updates in the form of photos and videos, and I absolutely love getting their updates. Whilst this is the norm throughout term-time, it’s probably the most frequent during the first term. Seeing my friends having the time of their lives, making new friends, and getting the text messages of stories about their days out is great. That is until I would get the realisation that I’m in a room, on my own, having not had the experience of a day out with some (non-existent) uni friends. 

It seems that as soon as you are a uni student the two questions you forever get asked are “how’s your course going?” and something along the lines of “are you enjoying  the social life?”.

I felt like I was the only one who had nothing ‘exciting’ to report back to my friends. Not that they would value me any less, but it just felt so… awkward. Especially those moments where I would be sitting there listening to everyone’s stories and someone would notice I hadn’t said a word yet, turn to me, and say, “So, Aimee. What you been up to?”

Of course, this was always with good intentions, but I found myself shying away from questions asking me about the social aspects of university. Whilst this was easy to do through text, when it came to direct face-to-face conversations, it would make me want to crawl into a corner as I feel myself literally trying to fight back this sudden shadow of sadness (which is just a really weak way to describe it, but it’s kind of like those animations where someone will be standing there and all of the sudden this raincloud appears above their head). 

It’s a question which I still DREAD every time I come back home for the end-of-term break and see people.

I know that many others have found themselves in the same boat.  It fills you with paranoiac thoughts. 
  • Why haven’t I made any friends yet? 
  •  Do other students just not like me? Why?
  • Is there something I’m doing wrong? (the answer in NO!)

On a personal level, this was heightened by the fact that I’m pretty much the only one within my friendship group who went to uni without a friend (or at least one nearby). As well as seemingly knowing quite a lot of people who just happen to be at universities within close proximity to their friends:
  • One person who’s at uni with her best friend; 
  • A really close friend who is at uni  studying the same course with two of her friends; 
  • Then on top of that my two closest friends are at uni together.

The last of those was probably the one that hit me the hardest, especially considering that I had gone thorough pre-school, primary, secondary, and Sixth Form with my best friend. Meanwhile, I’m 100 miles away, so the option of visiting wasn’t even viable considering the cost and length of the journey, and that I had lessons every day.

It’s at these times when we feel like we are missing out on all the shared-experiences that we once had with our friends… Together.

If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, I just want you to know that there’s no shame in feeling a little bit jealous that you’re not there sharing these experiences with your friends. It’s a perfectly valid way to feel. 

As the term and academic year goes on it appears as though everyone else on your course and your flatmates have some well-grounded friendships in place. When you don’t feel like you do, this just becomes even more emphasised in your perception. For me, this was probably the worst during seminars, when everyone seemed to already be in a friendship group and I just sat on my own. That is until the daunting moment you are asked to get into groups… Panic!

Despite talking to someone who you trust being one of the best therapies, this also comes with finding the right person to speak to. There’s that frustration of those people who tell you to just “go out moreand to justtalk to people”, or that "you're supposed to meet your lifelong friends at uni and have the best time of your life!". It’s probably one of THE WORST things anyone struggling with a similar situation has to hear. Very helpful when you know that’s exactly what you are trying to do. All you want to say is: I  AM trying to talk to other students who you come across and I AM trying to find the right society group.

The thing is, it doesn’t work like that. There are some circumstances where we just can’t find the right group of people or society. If you’re on a course like me with almost 200 students (perhaps more!), it’s quite tough to navigate yourself around everyone.

Furthermore, certain societies within universities can be very competitive. The types of societies which are competitive will vary across universities, but if it’s something that you really enjoy doing this can make it very difficult to and integrate yourself into.

It’s even more upsetting when you get the impression that others feel like you’re not trying hard enough, when the whole situation is genuinely physically and mentally draining you. 

The worst point is when it seems like you are not even taking a step forward in the right  direction. You begin to feel disconnected from everyone around you. Even talking to a group of people who you perhaps regularly see is a struggle. You just don’t feel like you’re in the right place. 

Maybe you get into that bad habit of replaying and analysing every single moment of interaction you have with someone

Then there comes the danger of isolating yourself. Unconscious of it, you begin to give up. This only makes it harder to join in with social interactions. I’ve recently come to the realisation that I’m guilty of this, but realising it is a step forward.

Another thing to note, which one of friend’s who reviewed this post wanted to share is that just because someone is in your flat/ halls or module group, don’t feel like you have to build a friendship with them, especially if you have no common ground. Be friendly and civil but feeling like you have to be around certain people because they were the first people who you met, or simply for the sake of feeling like you have to stick around, may be preventing you from finding those people who you do click with.

There’s one thing which I really want to alliterate at this point:

This is hard and it’s something I am still trying to get to grips with myself, but the basic things to look out for are:
  • Ensuring that you are eating well and enough.
  • Checking in on how you are sleeping (too much or too little).
  • Making sure that this isn’t having an impact on your studies.
  •  Reflecting on your behaviours (especially those avoidance behaviours which are so easy to get into).

If I’m going to be completely honest, sometimes I’m still in denial about the way I feel. Most of the time it's because I feel plagued with guilt for feeling the way I do, when I know that there's so much to be (and I am) grateful for. Then there's the guilt of feeling like you’re being a burden on others, no matter how many times they insist that it's fine for you to speak to them.

Nevertheless, we all eventually learn (time and time again) that suppressing your emotions is not the way to go. A large part of this problem is that the majority of the time you aren’t even conscious that it is something that you are doing.

Nevertheless, one of the most important steps is to acknowledge how you are feeling, before you can actively act upon them. It takes time.

Some General Tips:

    CC01.0 | Pxhere
  • Volunteering (as an alternative to societies)
    This is a great way of combating the feeling of loneliness. One thing I am going to do next academic year is to take up something that will force me to interact with people, like visiting a care home or helping children to read on a weekly basis. It gives you something you have to commit to so that you don't get into the habit of isolating yourself. You can adapt this to your own interests, but of course try something new as well! Sometimes it’s the things we least expect that we end up enjoying the most!

  • Don’t lock yourself in your room.
    I know this is hard not to do when you’re feeling really blue, but even if it’s as simple as going out and sitting somewhere on campus to do your work for a few hours is enough. Taking a walk may be good to. You may not feel like you don't want to do it, but sometimes it’s a beneficial  reminder to know that there’s a world outside your lecture theatres and room.

  • Keep in touch with friends and family.
    This is where social media can provide benefits. Arrange to give your best friend a call, I’m sure that they will be happy to hear from you!
    They're the ones who can distract us and make us smile from miles away.

  • I’m aware that you probably hear this all the time, but I have to say it: if you feel the need to please speak to your personal tutor or another other academic you trust.
    As mentioned previously, sending an email is a good call if you feel uncomfortable directly asking. It may be one of the most nerve-wrecking things you will do, but it’s one button and sometimes that one click can make the greatest difference. This can be a general chat, or if required (and when you feel ready) they can point you to resources around campus and on your university’s website.

Further tips and advice can be found on the links below:

                                                            Mind                         The Student Room                         Student Minds    

Your university should hopefully have a wellbeing or counselling service page with some helpful links and information to. Please don’t let the word ‘wellbeing’ or ‘counselling’ scare you. They won’t be looking into your search history!

I’m not really sure how to end this, but if you’re a student (or anyone) who has struggled, I hope this has lifted a little bit of that heavy feeling off your chest to know that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with who you are. It just takes some of us more time than others to find the right people, and that's okay!

I hope this has also helped those of you with struggling friends to maybe understand their situation a little bit more, because it is a confusing one to have to explain. It can be it’s hard to know how to support them and they will completely understand that.
Sometimes just a little hug is enough

If you are one of my friends, (well, you’ve already read this by the time it’s gone up, but) please keep sending the photos and videos! I do LOVE seeing them, especially the hilarious mini vlog updates (you know who you are!).  

To my best friend (and all the other best friends/ supportive people out there reading this), thank you for your kindness and understanding, because it means so much. We don't always tell you, but we appreciate you guys much more than words can express and it's your messages which brighten up for a few moments when we feel the most alone.

 If you have any other tips, comments or suggestions to share, leave them in the comments below. I've left the option open for anonymous comments as that may be more comfortable.

Finally, if you do happen to be a Warwick student in need of a chat about anything, please do get in touch if you want to. It would be great to get to know you! 😊

I'm aware that this is quite long, so thank you for reading through this post, 
especially if you have managed to get through the whole thing!