Updated: Mar 10
The COVID-19 lockdowns across the world have had negative impacts on many young people. Many students are concerned about their education, wasted money on rent, lack of face-to-face interactions and their mental health.
One thing that feels slightly forgotten is loneliness. Students are susceptible to feeling lonely because of leaving friends and family back home and having to re-establish their life at university. Evidence suggests students are feeling even lonelier as a result of COVID-19, and it seems to be particularly hard for first-year students, who never really had an opportunity to go out, engage in societies, and make new friends. University is not all about education, but also about creating and maintaining fulfilling relationships and friendships. In this article, I want to provide some tips on how to stay connected in these difficult times. We all want to hope that this advice may no longer be relevant to us in a couple of months, but with our lives being changed by the pandemic and many of universities and workplaces considering a blended online-offline approach, it is worth bearing in mind that we can still stay social even from the comfort of our homes.
1. Social media – our friend or foe?
Now, we all know how harmful social media could be and there is plenty of research suggesting that frequent (ab)use of social media can lead to negative social interactions, cyber-bullying, and increased suicidal rates among young people. No matter what your opinion on social media is, research suggests that it could be extremely helpful in reducing loneliness in undergraduate students. Social media can allow you to feel more engaged with your new friends or course mates, but it also allows you to stay connected to your friends and family back home. The main piece of advice is to try and be your true self online. The more you hide your true identity, the less likely you are to find and connect with like-minded people who would boost your well-being and make you feel less lonely.
2. Societies – they are still there!
One thing I’ve discovered through conversations with many undergraduate students is that a lot of you are not aware that the societies are still out there, and you can still join events, pub quizzes, social gatherings or any other entertainments university societies have to offer. This could actually be a great opportunity for more introverted students to find new hobbies and things to enjoy. It is sometimes difficult (and even awkward) to enter a room full of strangers, some of whom might already know each other. Joining societies online can reduce these emotions of embarrassment and lead to wonderful offline friendships. This may allow you to feel more prepared for when you finally get to meet up in-person again. Give it a try!
3. Houseparty, Zoom, Skype: whichever floats your boat, use it!
For many of us, myself included, the lockdowns have reduced the commute time, reduced lunch breaks, and increased the number of work hours that can be crammed into one day. I started responding to messages less and less, feeling more disengaged from my friends while investing more and more time into work. Sound familiar?
Plan your time the same way as you used to before the pandemic. Was Friday evening your usual time to catch up with friends in a pub or the cinema? Organise something online instead. There are so many apps now available that allow you to play games, watch movies together, and have virtual drinks. Sure, it is not the same thing, but it’s important to stay engaged with people around you. Acquired introversion is becoming a real thing and staying connected to your friends will help you transition back into our ‘normal’ life a lot easier while causing less anxiety.
4. Be pro-active, engage with people
This topic has been touched upon in one of our earlier articles by one of my colleagues, and it directly leads from my previous point. I would like to emphasise once again that you need to stay pro-active when it comes to keeping in touch with people. Perhaps this advice might be more for those of us who don’t actually feel that lonely.
Are you sure your friends are doing as well as you are doing?
What about those who live alone and have no one to have a cup of tea with?
Reach out to people, ask them how their day went. Not only will this boost your mood, but it might also help out a friend in need.
5. You are not alone
Many of you might not have had a chance to meet your course mates or make new friends in university, and this experience might seem extremely lonely. But you are not alone, I would highly encourage you to get in touch with a service if you feel like you need to chat with someone but feel like you don’t have that much needed shoulder. Reaching out for help shows how truly strong you are, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you feel it is truly needed.
Examples of services include:
1. Right at the beginning of the pandemic last year, I started volunteering with a text message-based crisis line called Shout. They are a free, confidential, 24/7 messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope. During my time with them, I have supported many students who felt locked inside with no one to talk to. If you are struggling, text SHOUT 85258.
2. The Samaritans offer a telephone, text and email helpline service. They also have a self-help app that allows you to track your feelings and get recommendations to help yourself cope, feel better or stay safe in a crisis.
3. Consider well-being and mindfulness apps - the NHS website has a list of recommended free well-being audio guides too.
A.V. is a Psychology PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London working on student mental health. She previously completed a BSc Psychology and an MSc Clinical and Mental Health Sciences at University College London. She is a member of the British Psychological Society and an aspiring clinical psychologist, currently working as a crisis counselor.