This fall, many of us will be heading off to a college far away from home, leaving behind family, friends and everything we know. It is an incredibly exciting time of newfound independence and freedom, yet at the same time such a drastic change can lead to feelings of homesickness and loneliness. Regardless of whether you are leaving behind all of your family and friends, are going to have a few friends going to college with you or are able to go home on the weekends, it is likely you will feel lonely at some point and wish for the easy, familiar high school days.
Loneliness in college often stems from unfamiliarity. We are surrounded by completely new people, in a new environment, doing something very different from anything else we have experienced. It can be isolating and overwhelming. Additionally, you no longer have the constant support system from parents, siblings or life-long friends that would have made moving in during your younger years slightly more bearable. Loneliness can be harmful to mental health and affect your academic and personal life. Here are eight ways college students can learn to cope with and combat loneliness and homesickness.
1. Realize you are not alone.
Even if it doesn't seem like it, most college students have experienced loneliness and homesickness to some extent. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. It is a perfectly normal feeling. Talk to your roommate or new friends about how you are feeling, ask older students how they dealt with it and reach out to your family members who probably miss you just as much as you miss them. You can also use this knowledge to help others. Reach out to other students who are suffering from loneliness and be a support system.
2. Foster your sense of community.
The great thing about a hometown is the familiarity. As new freshmen arriving on campus, most people lack the same community spirit they felt back home. But when you make your college your new community, you will feel comfortable and at home. You can make your college your home and community by attending sport events, showing school spirit, going to school-sponsored events, sitting in on seminars and becoming familiar with the campus. Take pride in your school's history, learn about past alumni and realize you are a crucial part of the college.
3. Find ways to keep in touch with family and friends.
It has never been easier to keep in touch with people no matter the distance. Use social media to check up on your friends and let them about your life as well. Message or call your friends. Let them know you miss them because they probably miss you a lot too. Skype or call your family on a regular basis. Don't be afraid to call your parents for advice when you are struggling or having a problem. No matter where you live, your family will always be there for you. Plan when you are going to visit your family and keep that date in mind. It will make the separation easier by reminding you it is not forever.
While social media is a great way to feel connected in your friends' life, be careful. People tend to share only the most positive aspects of their life and often pictures or posts make their life sound more amazing than it really is. It can be disheartening to see your friends having such a great time at college while you are struggling, but remember, social media does not paint the whole picture. Never compare your life to anyone else's and never let social media make you think less of yourself.
4. Get out and meet people.
The best way to stop feeling lonely is to make new friends. This might be easier for some, but even extremely introverted people need friends. Ask to sit with people at lunch, get to know your roommate, join study groups, talk to the people in your classes or hang out in the common areas of your dorm. If your college has a freshmen Facebook page, find people with common interests and reach out. Everyone is in the same boat of needing to make new friends. Why shouldn't their new friend be you?
5. Get active in clubs, sports or Greek life.
Getting involved on campus is a great way to make college more fun and meet new people. Continue your old passions in college or find new ones. Join a dance club, a volunteering organization or a sport. It will be fun and automatically introduce you to people with common interests. Keeping busy by adding clubs to your schedule is also a great way to get your mind off missing family or feeling lonely. If you think it is for you, Greek life can also be a great way to gain a community and meet people. Find a fraternity or sorority you connect with and consider joining.
6. Exercise, eat and sleep to ward off depression.
Loneliness can lead to depression, which makes it even more difficult to make friends and enjoy college. Three easy ways to think and feel happier are to exercise more, eat better and get enough sleep. Physical activity releases endorphins that create a positive feeling. If you are feeling down, head to the gym and try a quick workout. It will make you feel happier and more confident. This can also be a good way to meet people. You can find a gym buddy or check out a group exercise class and meet new people.
What you eat also plays a big role in how you feel mentally. With dining halls it can be tempting to eat whatever looks good, but eating a healthy meal will make you feel much better. Make sure you eat enough protein and try to eat foods that give long-lasting energy. Avoid excessive processed sugar and foods with lots of empty calories.
Getting enough sleep is also crucial to mental health. This can difficult in college, especially if you have a demanding schedule, but taking the time to get 8-10 hours of sleep (six at the bare minimum) will help you perform better. If you are a night owl, schedule your classes later in the day so you can sleep in. Early birds should try to retire early. If your schedule allows it, also sneak in a power nap.
7. Change your mentality by remembering all the things you love about college.
Staying positive is one of the best ways to combat loneliness or depression. College isn't perfect, but it can pretty great. Focus on all the things you love about being a college student, whether that's your classes, clubs you are involved in, parties, the sense of freedom, the campus, anything you can think of. If you can't think of anything you love about college, find something. If you are a pessimist, try to have a more optimistic outlook. Attitude can change everything and if you can convince yourself to love college, loneliness will subside significantly.
Another bonus to having a positive mentality is the signal you give off. People are drawn to positive energy. If you smile and maintain a cheery attitude, people will want to be your friend. Positive people also tend to have more confidence and feel less insecure.
8. Seek help if prolonged loneliness persists.
For many college students it will take a few months to find friends and feel at home in college, but for others feelings of loneliness persist and turn to depression. If you have taken steps to overcome loneliness and homesickness to no avail, try seeking help. Many colleges offer counseling services or mental health resources. Talk to someone about coping and living with depression. College can be scary and sometimes we need help to adjust.
Feeling lonely or homesick is a normal part of college. For some, it will be over quickly. Others may have to try harder. Though it sounds cliché, it will pass. Over time, college will become more familiar and you will form new friendships. You will learn to live away from family and become an independent person. If loneliness is getting in the way of your college experience, try some of these tips to make friends, feel at home in college and improve your mentality.