In theory, being at uni is about having the time of your life. You’re surrounded by potential pals, people who have chosen to spend at least three years focusing on the subject you’re super passionate about (subjects which may or may not include 'vodka' and 'fancy dress'). It doesn’t even matter how obscure your hobbies are; there's probably a group of people who have booked a meeting room to talk about them every Thursday night. Surely, everywhere you look, there's a friend just waiting to happen! Or at least new Instagram follower... right?
Look at the websites and brochures, it seems like everyone's making new best friends left, right and centre – so if it’s taking you a little longer to find your tribe, you’re going to feel especially isolated. There’s a lot of pressure to seem strong and secure, at a time when you’re probably feeling especially vulnerable. The Higher Education Statistics Agency found reported a 210 per cent increase in the number of students who left their course because of mental health issues between 2010 and 2015. And it’s worth remembering that mental health is like physical health – if you take good care of yourself when you start to feel low, you can make sure that you’re as prepared as possible if anything serious happens.
So here’s how to cope with those 'all by myself' feelings, and when to seek help if things get serious.
1. You are not alone
Any kind of anxiety tends to make you very focused on your own feelings – and sometimes, you just need to take a step back and realise that you’re not a tiny slice of misery, messing up a pie chart of happiness. There’s a solid circles worth of people who feel just like you, and they’re probably up for a chat. Just knowing that you’re not the only person having a tough time can be deeply comforting.
Ellie, 19 says “I felt very insecure during my first term of uni. I’d go out with people from halls, but we didn’t really connect, and it seemed as though my friends from home were having the best time ever at their unis. It was only when I went home for Christmas and confided in my best mate that I wasn’t loving it, that she said she felt exactly the same. When I came back to uni, I made an effort to talk to the people who seemed a bit cool and aloof, and it turned out that they were just feeling a bit shy and anxious too. It’s really hard to be honest if you’re feeling low, but it’s worth it, it makes it much easier to relate to people.”
2. Get off social media
Before you say “Urghh, SHUUUP MUM!” it’s worth remembering that the studies are extensive, and the numbers keep telling us that social media is the new smoking. It’s addictive, it’s bad for our long and short term health and it really doesn’t make us look as cool as we’d like to think.
No-one expects you to get off Snapchat altogether, but you need to know that it can be isolating, might even make you more antisocial, and affects our ability to interact on many levels. We’re not going to ask someone about themselves if we’ve already spent hours scrolling through their cousin’s wedding on Instagram, and when we’re feeling lonely, any platform that makes us believe everyone else in the world is having a brilliant time is only going to make things worse. That said, social media can actually boost new friendships – if you’ve just met someone, it’s a great way to keep the momentum going – but try to make real life plans instead of drunkenly liking all of their gap year pictures and then panicking that you seem too keen.
3. Be careful with booze
Man has been using alcohol as a bonding tool ever since we started competing and commiserating over our mammoth hunting results. Many of us find that drinking makes us feel more relaxed, confident and able to approach new friends in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible when sober. But booze makes life more complicated too. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that in the long term, it can make you feel low, and less positive about the night before. So if you drink, making sure that you do so in moderation might be the best thing you can do for your mental health, and it means you’re less likely to experience periods of sadness and low moods.
Obviously it’s not easy if you don’t imbibe either, as loads of campuses have a drinking culture that makes sober students feel excluded. But increasingly, universities have clubs and societies especially for non drinkers – and if there isn’t one near you, hey, you could always set one up...
4. Monitor your moods
It’s natural and normal to feel low and lonely from time to time. However, if you’ve been feeling unhappy for weeks, and there hasn’t been any glad to take the edge off the sad, it’s worth seeking help.
The Moodnotes app can be a really useful way of monitoring your mental health. It uses CBT therapy prompts to help you record and work through your feelings, and can help you get to the root of your issues. If you think you need help with managing your mental health, your university student services should be able to direct you to some support. And it might be the last thing you feel like doing, but: make an appointment with your campus doctor, and ask them for advice. You never have to feel bad about feeling bad, and you’ve got the right to get the most out of your time at uni. Bottom line: it’s always OK to ask for help.
Image: Tan Danh via Pexels