What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress that arises when your social needs aren't being met. Loneliness is a common experience, affecting as many as 1 in 3 people. The coronavirus health crisis has added more pressure to this, with increased physical and social isolation making socialising and contact with others more difficult.
How is loneliness experienced?
The experience of loneliness varies from person to person, as everybody has different social needs. However, a common contributor to the experience of loneliness is environmental conditions, such as social isolation. This can be caused by living alone or being distant from your old social networks - such as when you first move to university. Another way that loneliness can be experienced is when you are surrounded by people, yet feel like you lack meaningful connections with those people. The good news is that these things can be changed.
Making friends and social connections
While a low number of social connections can contribute to loneliness, it is often the quality of these connections that is more important. This is relevant to when we feel loneliness despite being surrounded by others.
Friendships and meaningful social connections are a crucial component of our wellbeing and psychological health. Most often, friendships begin situationally, when we find ourselves going through the same life experiences as others. Shared experience is one of the best ways to connect and bond with others. With this in mind, here are some suggestions for making friends at university:
- Put yourself in environments where you are likely to meet others, and don't be afraid to initiate conversation and put yourself out there. This can be uncomfortable at first, but others are likely to be appreciative of your efforts. You don't need to entertaining, just interested. Check out this useful YouTube video, starting conversations with confidence.
- Your degree program is a great place to start, and you'll often notice the same familiar faces in different classes throughout your time at university. Go to your tutorials and lectures, and opt for the in-person options where available. 'Do you mind if I join you?' is a polite way to initiate a conversation with somebody.
- Follow your interests - there are over 150 clubs and societies at ANU, and these are a great way to meet like-minded people (check out the clubs list for more info). Do you enjoy sport? There's also a varied range of sporting teams and competitions you can join through ANU.
- Volunteering can allow you to make meaningful connections while also meaningfully contributing and gaining a sense of purpose. There are many opportunities for volunteering at ANU, and many of these can be counted towards ANU+, a program that formally recognises your volunteering experience and contribution. Check out ANUSA and PARSA for more volunteering opportunities. You can also volunteer in the Canberra community; see Volunteering ACT for more info.
- Griffin Hall - if you don't live at an ANU residential hall, why not join Griffin Hall? Griffin Hall is a non-residential hall community which offers various events and activities, a community, and support and programs for students living off-campus.
- Mentoring - similar to volunteering, mentoring can be a great way to make meaningful connections with others. You might like to chat to somebody about your studies, or even become a mentor yourself. Check out SET4ANU for more.
- There are also a variety of events on offer at ANU, where you can meet people with similar interests:
- Check out ANU Thrive Events for a range of events including arts and crafts, cooking and well-being webinars.
- ANUSA and PARSA offer social, cultural, and educational events throughout the year.
- Check out Experience ANU for a range of university and research/educational events.
Blocks to combatting loneliness
Your own state of mind and behaviour can affect loneliness, too. If you are lonely you may find yourself engaging in some of the following behaviours that can perpetuate the problem:
- Do you make little attempt to get involved in social activities?
It can be easy to fall into a cycle of not accepting others' invitations, which can lead to less invitations, and in turn invite negative thinking. Accept invitations to participate in things, and don't be afraid to initiate something.
- Do you become self-conscious and worry about being evaluated by others? Are you falsely assuming that nobody likes you?
Don't make assumptions! Often, the fear of somebody not liking us is the reason we are thinking that way. Consider if there is actually any hard evidence for this idea. Think of someone in your life who you feel good with - it could be a friend from long ago, it could be a teacher or aunt or anyone. Think about how they would describe you. Hold on to those thoughts about yourself.
- Do you think that you are too shy?
Start by acknowledging that putting yourself out there - while it might be a difficult thing to do - won't hurt you. Others won't be put off by shyness. Look to meet others in situations where you are most comfortable. For example, if you want to meet people, consider a small tutorial group to begin with rather than a loud, crowded gathering.
Check out this useful YouTube video, starting conversations with confidence.
Tips along the way
- Start small and notice small successes
Say 'hello' to one person the first week, to two the next. Smile. Remember to notice your small successes. For example, if someone smiles back at you; or if someone says hello to you.
- If you see someone you like, make a move!
Don't just sit there and hope that the person will come to you. Make the first move. Ask people about themselves - what course they are studying, how they like the lecturer... You don't need to entertain people, just be interested.
- Learn to develop your social skills
Notice what others do to make contact. How do they start a conversation? Imagine someone you admire, think about their behaviours and think about what's good and what you can learn. Remeber that it is normal to make mistakes or have small set-backs along the way. You might approach somebody who doesn't want to talk. Recognise this, respect their wishes, and move on - knowing that there are many others out there and that set-back isn't a poor reflection of you.
- Avoid seeking an intimate relationship as a first step
If you are feeling lonely, seeking an intimate relationship may not be the best first-step. Relationships take time to develop and become secure, and if they end, you want to be able to turn to friends for support. Look to develop friendships as a first point and develop your social skills and a positive outlook.
- Talk to people and get help if needed
It's always a good idea to tell people how you feel. Talk to friends, family or someone you can trust. Seek help if you think you need it. As a first step, chat to peer educators at ANU Thrive. Book a consultation slot for a confidential, casual chat. You can find further support and resources at Getting help at ANU.
If you are feeling immediate distress, you can call the ANU Wellbeing and Support Line on 1300 050 327 or SMS 0488 884 170. This is a 24-hour support service available to ANU students experiencing situational stress, emotional difficulties and mental health concerns.
Further useful resources and information
See the following useful online informational resources on loneliness: Back Dog Institute, Australian Psychological Society.
ANU Counselling offers free and confidential counselling for ANU students. If you are feeling distressed, talking about it with a professional is a great first-step to take.
Check out the TalkCampus app, offering peer-support for your mental health any time of day and night.
Unsure about anything?
If you'd like to discuss or explore your options further, you might like to speak to ANU Thrive. ANU Thrive hosts free weekly drop-in sessions with a student peer mentor, who can talk through the options available to you or provide more information about available services and steps to take. These sessions are offered in-person and online on Wednesdays and Thursdays.