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The college experience can produce a wide variety of feelings among students. In addition to feelings of excitement and anticipation, there may also be feelings of loneliness. Loneliness does not necessarily result from being alone. Anyone could be alone for long periods without feeling lonely. On the other hand, they may feel lonely in settings that are unfamiliar or when they are around other people. The best way to begin to understand loneliness is to examine some of the ways people experience it. You may feel lonely when:

  • You’re alone and you feel you don’t have other choices.
  • You feel that you’re lacking relationships you had in the past.
  • You are facing changes in your life, such as a new school, town, or job.You feel there’s no one in your life who understands your feelings and experiences.
  • You have negative thoughts such as feelings unacceptable, unlovable, not worthwhile (even if others don’t share this view of you).

Misconceptions About Loneliness

Loneliness can be made more intense by what you tell yourself it means. College students are particularly susceptible to the following misconceptions regarding loneliness:

  • “Loneliness is a sign of weakness, or immaturity.”
  • "There’s something wrong with me if I’m lonely. These should be the best years of my life.”
  • “I’m the only one who feels this way.”

If you believe these misconceptions you may believe that loneliness results from a defect in your personality. Research suggests that college students who think of loneliness as a defect tend to have the following difficulties:

Greater difficulty in social situations such as: taking social risks, asserting themselves, making phone calls to initiate social contact, introducing themselves to others, participating in groups, and enjoying themselves at parties.

Increased difficulty trusting others such as: less skill in self-disclosure, less responsiveness to others, and a greater tendency to approach social encounters with cynicism and mistrust, as well as increased tendency to expect others to reject them.

Higher likelihood of evaluating themselves and others in a negative way.

Students who are lonely often report feeling depressed, angry, afraid, and misunderstood. They may become highly critical of themselves, overly sensitive or self-pitying, or they may become critical by blaming others for their situations. When these things happen, people who feel lonely may start doing things that add to their loneliness. Some students may lose their sense of desire and/or motivation to get involved in new situations or isolate themselves from people and activities. Other students may deal with loneliness by becoming involved too quickly and deeply with people and activities without evaluating the consequences of their involvement. These students may later find themselves in unsatisfying relationships or over-committed to academic or extracurricular activities.

What To Do About Loneliness

The alternative to viewing loneliness as a defect or as an unalterable personality characteristic is to recognize that loneliness is something that can be changed. It is also important to know that loneliness is a common experience. According to a recent national survey, one quarter of all adults experience painful loneliness at least every few weeks, and the incidence among adolescents and college students is even higher. Loneliness is neither a permanent state nor “bad” in itself. Instead it should be viewed more accurately as an indicator of important needs that are currently unmet.

It is important to take action when important needs aren’t being met. Begin by identifying which needs are not being met in your specific situation. It may be helpful to develop a closer connection to one friend or establish a strong group of friends whom you can rely on. In addition, needs can be met by learning to enjoy or feel content with doing things by yourself.

Developing Connections with Others

As discussed in the previous section, developing friendships can impact loneliness. There are a number of ways to begin meeting your needs for friendship. Consider the following:

  • Remind yourself that your loneliness will not last forever.
  • In doing the things you ordinarily do in the course of your daily schedule, look for ways to get involved with people. For example, you can eat with others, sit with new people in class, or find a study or exercise partner.
  • Put yourself in new situations where you will meet people. Engage in activities in which you have genuine interest. You will be more likely to meet people with whom you have something in common.
  • Use campus resources. Find out about organizations and activities on campus like clubs, churches, part-time jobs, and volunteer work. Ask for ideas from someone who has been around longer than you have.
  • Work at developing your social skills. Practice getting to know others and letting them know you.
  • Don’t judge new people on the basis of past relationships. Instead, try to see each person you meet from a new perspective.
  • Intimate friendships usually develop gradually as people learn to share their inner feelings. Avoid rushing into intimate friendships by sharing too quickly or expecting that others will. Let the process develop naturally.
  • Value all of your friendships and their unique characteristics rather than believing that only a romantic relationship will relieve your loneliness.

Developing Yourself

Think of yourself as a whole person and try not to neglect other needs just because your companionship or friendship needs are not being met.

  • Make sure you follow habits of good nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Don’t let academics, hobbies, and other interests slide.
  • Use your alone time as an opportunity to develop independence and to learn to take care of your own emotional needs. 
  • Whenever possible, use what you have enjoyed in the past to help you decide how to enjoy your alone time now.
  • Keep things in your environment (such as books, puzzles or music) that you can use to enjoy in your alone time.
  • Explore the possibility of doing things alone that you usually do with other people (like going to the movies).
  • Don’t decide ahead of time how you’re going to feel about an activity.

Keep an open mind.In summary, don’t define yourself as a lonely person. No matter how bad you feel, loneliness will diminish or even disappear when you focus attention and energy elsewhere. Developing goals and understanding your own needs are a great place to start!

Want to Know More?

Below are some websites that provide suggestions for handling and overcoming loneliness.




Get help ASAP

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They also offer a chat option through their website, suicidepreventionhotline.org/chat/.