Understanding and combatting loneliness

14 June 2021

At this time in the year, loneliness can be a key concern for students. It is perfectly normal to feel this way, and amid a global pandemic, understandable. Read on for UCL student Julie Colonna’s top tips on how to beat loneliness.

Student sitting at table with laptop and cup of tea

Loneliness is a perfectly rational, normal experience that is just part of what it means to be human. However, it is also something that is framed by the mind - we can still feel alone in a room full of people, it is not solely in isolation or in quarantine that we experience that emotion of loneliness.  So, loneliness can only exist as a concept when we think about ourselves as being separate from others, separate from the world around us - and is therefore often something within our control.  

These strange times are essentially teaching us how to be alone with ourselves, how to take care of ourselves. However, this does not necessarily have to equal loneliness: I believe that a part of us longs for independence, craves for a peace of mind, a break from the fast paced, hectic momentum of our lives, to recover and better ourselves (a ‘mental glow up’, in many ways).  

Meditation and mindfulness

This is the most important. Sometimes what often makes us most uncomfortable is being alone with our thoughts — they do not define you, but sometimes they get so overwhelming that we start to believe they do. 

Headspace has a course on ‘reframing loneliness’; but otherwise, work on observing your thoughts from a birds-eye view: are they negative? Are you even bullying yourself? Are they positive, empowering? Are some thoughts you have addictive? You’re not trying to change what you think about, just impartially observing them so you can be more aware of what your mind is up to. You can read more about mindfulness and the resources available to you including 10 Minute Mind, here

Introducing ‘play’: aka manual work that brings inner calm 

Discover what drives you, what excites you. The goal is to introduce ‘play’ in our everyday lives, and nurture our inner child. What did ‘little you’ enjoy doing? Maybe it was baking. What food reminds you of home? Personally, when I miss my French side, I like to make this loaf by Paul Hollywood.

It could be cleaning — there will always be a need for that in a university flat anyway! Maybe it’s painting — you could start with a paint by numbers. Reading and writing? Taking care of plant babies? Yoga/pilates/body building? If you’ve got a hectic week where you can’t take time out to do any of those things, try taking some time in a place away from your designated workspace for a small break or fidgeting with a stress ball (or a fidget spinner if you caved in 2017). Can you go for a quick walk and observe what’s going on around you? 

Play creates an important notion of resilience, where you can move forward by failing at something – and trying it again with greater optimism. Try using this mentality to move through your anxieties and loneliness: as you push through, the greater your resilience and the better equipped you are to look after yourself when things just get too much. 

Reach out

So maybe mindfulness or the idea of play haven't quite worked for you. Possibly the most important, and easiest, way to connect is to pick up your phone and communicate with people the old-fashioned way. As we spend more of our lives on social media, we tend to have the illusion of connection - yet we are ending up more disconnected than ever. 

Friends and family are also not your only support system: tell your flatmates how you’re feeling (this will encourage them to open up to you, too!), or even your hairdresser. There are also hundreds of clubs and societies running online events – my top picks would be Baking Society and English Society, where we have regular book clubs.  

Remember there’s always the Student Psychological and Counselling Services, who are here to support you. There is no shame in seeking for guidance and sometimes, speaking to a stranger is easier. 

Read more of our tips for combatting loneliness. 

Julie Colonna, BA English Language and Literature