5 Tips for Combatting Loneliness
Guest post by Kim Dias
UVic has a student body of 21,700 undergrad and graduate students. The moment you step onto campus, there are people everywhere—queuing for coffee, working in the library, lifting at CARSA. We are constantly surrounded by our fellow students. (Something that is never more apparent than when you’re looking for a seat on the bus…)
Yet there is an epidemic of loneliness on campus. The “UVic Confessions and Crushes” Facebook page received so many anonymous confessions from students who felt alone and isolated that they arranged a “Find a Friend” event in November. Its aim was to create a low-stakes environment where people could hang out, play games, and hopefully ease some of that loneliness.
21,700 people around us, and that isn’t even counting our professors and other UVic staff. Why are so many of us struggling with loneliness?
I can’t answer the why. But I do have a few methods to help combat loneliness.
Join a club.
Clubs give you the opportunity to meet people with similar interests and, maybe even more importantly, they get you into the world. When you’re feeling sad and lonely, it’s easy to huddle in your room. Having a scheduled activity once a week—something that isn’t school—keeps you from isolating yourself.
In my first semester, I went to the Clubs and Course Unions Days and signed up for the mailing list of any club that sounded remotely interesting. On my first day at the squash club, I met the woman who would, over the next two years, become my best friend and my most treasured source of support in Victoria.
I got lucky in how easy it was to find her. But in those early days, when we were still acquaintances rather than friends, being a member of clubs helped me leave my house and spend time with people when I didn’t have any friends here. I’m not a member of any UVic clubs at this current time—but that’s because in my early days at UVic, I joined clubs and used them to find my people. My climbing group grew from UVic’s climbing club; my best friendship evolved from laughing at how bad we were at squash.
UVic’s next upcoming Clubs and Course Unions Days are 9-10 January 2019. Spend some time wandering between those tables; UVic clubs offer a huge variety of activities, from kayaking to board games to Lego.
Take advantage of class.
Classes give you an easy way to start conversations. Ask your neighbour how they found the last exam; talk about how uncomfortable the chairs are. This person might not be your soulmate, but it’s always nice to have in-class friends.
You’d be surprised at how much those five-minute conversations before and after class can lift some of your loneliness. (As a bonus, if you have to miss class, you’ll have someone who’ll share their notes with you—just make sure you return the favour.)
Take a risk.
Invite someone out. That person you’ve been talking to in class? Ask if they want to get coffee next week. The girl who’s at badminton club every Saturday? See if she wants to meet outside of club hours sometime. The people around you might just be waiting for you to reach out.
Last year, I spent a lot of time isolating myself. I was struggling a lot—with my relationship, with my mental health, with classes that were more demanding than any I’d ever had before. Instead of reaching out to friends, I turned down every single invitation I received and didn’t extend a single one. When I came back to school this year in September, I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to do that any more.
So when I discovered a local bar had a weekly trivia night, I invited a mix of close friends and people I wanted to get to know better. It was actually terrifying. What if no one wanted to go? What if people felt obliged to say yes? What if people found me annoying?
I put mechanisms into place to cope with those worries. When I invited people, I made sure they knew I’d love their company, but there was no pressure to go; I told them if they wanted me to not invite them in subsequent weeks, to let me know and there would be no hard feelings. I’ve found being honest is often the best route to take. It’s astonished me how many people around me share the same concerns I do.
Oh, and by the way? Three months later, everyone still attends trivia nights whenever they can. It’s a highlight of my week and the group has grown into an assortment of friends and strangers who sit and drink and argue about which NHL team is the most current winner of back-to-back Stanley Cups. (It’s the Pittsburgh Penguins, for anyone wondering.)
On the other hand, try saying yes to an invitation. Someone from work invited you out for drinks with their friends? Take them up on it. It’s scary, I know, going out with a crowd of new people—so give yourself permission to leave after an hour. But go. See what happens. You never know where you’ll find your people.
It’s also okay to reach out and ask for help, whether from friends or from UVic’s counselling services. You can talk to a counsellor or attend groups and workshops. Sometimes a feeling of isolation can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues—talking to a professional may be the best thing for you. You can find more information at UVic’s Counselling Services.
Don’t be hard on yourself. Many of us are living away from home for the first time. We’re learning how to be adults while completely separated from the support systems we’ve relied on for years. It’s okay to struggle. 21,700 students are on campus with you—I promise you’re not alone.