Alone time: the transition to independence

By Elinor Craven

Before you came to university, you’re likely to have heard from friends, family and neighbours how it would be the ‘best three years of your life’. And whilst you will indeed make some good memories and great friends, university can be an isolating place. It’s not surprising really when we consider that students usually move away from the familiarity of home and have to start making mature decisions about their future, the pressures of which means we can sometimes feel lonely and helpless despite living in a thriving city. The 18 to 25 age group are considered to be the loneliest age group of the British population. Not only can this be attributed to a fast pace of life, but also to the fact that we live through our phones, and sometimes lack face to face communication. These factors, along with the increased workload from university courses furthers our feelings of isolation. Your university experience may not be exactly as films make it out to be, and for most of us, our time at uni is often fraught with tiredness and mild panic, but don’t worry, this is normal. It’s not only first years who can feel isolated however, as second and third years can feel even more lonely after moving away from the hustle and bustle of first year halls, where friends were just down the corridor and something was always going on.

Social media updates from our friends, or even people that we barely know leads to the feeling that we’re missing out on new opportunities, which in turn leads to us to compare our lack of social life to others’ apparently jam-packed lives! This is all based on assumption however, and can make us feel worse about ourselves, especially if we’ve been hanging around the house all day in our pyjamas. The fear of missing out (FOMO as I believe it is commonly referred to), stems from seeing what other people have been up to, while you were busy working or napping, leaving you feeling isolated, like you’ve missed out on some vital university experience. But why does what others do have to affect you? You shouldn’t feel pressured to fit into what everyone else is doing, especially since what you see online may not be an accurate account of what is really going on. Your perceptions can often be unfounded and when you think Facebook friends are having the time of their lives, they may actually be worrying about how to pay this month’s rent. As difficult as it may seem, perhaps try to ignore social media for a few days, and see if it prevents you from thinking about what you might be missing out on.

Many students will tell you that the university experience is sadly not non-stop fun; work soon piles up, which makes socialising more difficult. Keeping in touch with friends from halls can be hard for second and third year students, whose added responsibility of looking after a house makes us feel as though we have to grow up and be responsible even if we still feel too young. Research suggests that most people these days only have two or three good friends on who we can rely and isn’t it better to leave university with a handful of good friends rather than many vague acquaintances? The average day for many of us involves working, watching some TV and comfort eating our way through an entire pack of biscuits to fuel us for the mountains of reading that has to be done. University isn’t the same as school, where you had a group of friends in every class and people thought it uncool if you spent lunchtime wandering around the field on your own. Instead it teaches us how to be independent and get used to spending time alone. It is normal for students to spend the majority of their week being productive in the library working, as at the end of the day, you’re here to study towards a degree.

You will leave university with good memories and great friends but you will face a good deal of challenges first. Feeling lonely is normal, whether you’re a first year who is missing home or a second or third year, who is spending more time in the library than at home and missing the freedom of first year. If ever you feel isolated and need to talk to someone, the student’s union provides a great counselling service. Alternatively, go out with or speak to family, friends from home, or halls or perhaps course mates, as you never know, they may feel similar to you. Sometimes, just getting out of the house helps, as it is easy to fall into a trap of staying in and ending up feeling even lonelier. Go for a walk, even if you’re alone, you’ll notice how many others are out and about on their own, it is not strange. Getting involved in new things is easy in university, perhaps try something like volunteering where you’ll have the chance to meet new people. Don’t assume you’re the only one at home in their room reading, as most of your friends are probably doing the same. Whether you are missing home, or just spending a lot of time alone in the house, your university years can be a difficult transitional period. Loneliness affects us all at some point, so you must remember you’re not alone, and there are always people around to help you get through it.

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