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According to a recent survey, approximately 3 million people in the UK said they feel lonely often or always. While loneliness is not a mental illness in and of itself, feeling lonely can negatively impact your mental health. Research suggests that loneliness can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. In addition, loneliness also has adverse effects on physical health.
Although loneliness is common across the population, it is a complex and unique experience, varying from person to person. This emotion can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnicity. However, in recent years, it has become more apparent that loneliness is affecting younger people including university students.
When starting university, many students will leave their homes and move away from their friends and family. With this move comes a new set of pressures and expectations. These include academic demands, making friends and ‘fitting in’. It can be a daunting experience, leading many students to spend more time alone. In some instances, spending time alone can be beneficial for your mental health, giving you time to self-reflect and be productive. However, when the feelings of loneliness and isolation persist, they can lead to low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
University can be a fun and exciting experience, but it can also be demanding. Adjusting to a new environment, increased workload and financial worries are just a few of the demands students face when starting at university. According to a recent survey, 26% of students admit to feeling lonely often or always. As a student, you’re not alone in feeling lonely. The commonality of this emotion makes it very likely that someone you know is also struggling.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Public Mental Health, researchers sought to understand the relationship between loneliness and mental health in students. The data collected suggested that greater loneliness led to greater anxiety, stress, and depression. As a result, when loneliness arises, it must be tackled early on before it leads to debilitating mental health problems. If you feel these feelings arising, or want to learn more about dealing with loneliness at university, here are some tips to help you:
Meet new people: You may feel lonely, but you’re not alone. University is a very social environment, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people. Joining a club or society is one option. Not only will this enable you to meet new people, but it will also encourage you to partake in a sport or activity that you enjoy. It is a great way to meet like-minded people and help you become part of a wider community.
Volunteering: Helping a local charity or community group is a great way to combat loneliness. In a recent study, involving 10,000 volunteers, 68% of participants agreed that volunteering helped them feel less isolated (this was highest in 18-24 year olds). The same study found that 77% of participants agreed that volunteering had improved their mental health and wellbeing. As a result, volunteering can help reduce the feelings associated with loneliness and give you a sense of purpose as you help those in need.
Keep in touch: Just because you’re moving away from home doesn’t mean you should lose contact with your friends and family. It is important to build new relationships, but it is equally important you don’t neglect your old relationships. Friends and family play a vital role in protecting your mental health by fostering a sense of belonging and purpose. Whenever you need to, call up your friends or message your family. They’ll appreciate it as much as you do.
Group exercise: Physical activity has a range of benefits for both the body and mind. These benefits vary from lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease to improving mood and self-esteem. There are also social benefits of physical activity. Partaking in group exercise is an effective way to meet new people and obtain much needed social connections. These group settings can help create a sense of belonging, helping reduce feelings of loneliness.
Talking therapy: Dealing with loneliness and social isolation can be overwhelming. If you feel ready, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. Those wishing to seek treatment should not feel ashamed. Talking to a professional can take a lot of trust and courage. Through counselling, you can explore who you are, identify your values and work on your health and wellbeing. Therapy can help you understand why you feel lonely, which can help you combat the cause of these feelings. It can also provide coping skills which can encourage you to become more social.
Health Assured are here to help and offer whatever support you need. If you would like any more information about coping with loneliness or social isolation, please get in touch through the helpline.
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