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Combating College Loneliness

by Dylan McIntyre 

Let’s face it: making friends at college is hard. Adjusting to life on a college campus can be a real challenge, and in COVID times, these challenges have only grown. Being far away from home with no one you know is a terrifying prospect, and being stationed at home but away from campus can make you feel isolated. Either way, you might start to feel lonely.

Loneliness is a condition where there is a deficit between someone’s desires for social interaction and their experiences with it. Basically, a lonely person is dissatisfied with their social life. When arriving at college, it’s normal to feel isolated from others; you’re in a brand new environment surrounded by total strangers. Many people gradually adapt to this change in scenery and make new friends. Others, however, remain cut off from social circles, and in a new time of social distancing, more and more people are feeling disconnected.

With Ithaca now entering its colder months, the weight of one’s loneliness can compound to form an unbearable burden. Because of this, it’s important to find ways to deal with loneliness, especially if it’s ongoing. Chronic loneliness can increase your body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol; it’s good for “fight or flight” situations, but too much of it can cause mental and physical exhaustion. In order to avoid these debilitating symptoms, you should maintain your connections with others while trying to make new ones. But how should you go about doing that, especially in a quarantined world? Here are some tips that can hopefully help.

Connect with your roommates and/or suitemates

If you’re on campus and living in a dorm, try to make friends with your suitemates. You don’t have to be the best of friends, but at least be friendly with them — you’ll be living together for a while, so why not make it pleasant? Also try to make friends with others on your floor and in your building, if you’re feeling bold. These people can be your support system; you can be there for each other if you ever need anything, socially or emotionally.

If you’re living off campus, whether in Ithaca or at home, stay close with your other residents, whether they’re friends or family, and spend time with them often, making sure you’re there to support each other. This year is certainly unlike any other, so try to make the most of it with those around you and be there for each other.

Join a club or student organization

If talking to random strangers out of the blue seems intimidating to you (all my fellow introverts, say “I!”), find people with similar interests to you by joining a club. At Cornell, there are literally hundreds of clubs you can join, so there’s bound to be something that strikes your fancy (if not, make your own!). Becoming involved in a club or student organization is a great way to feel like a part of a community. By surrounding yourself with people who have a similar goal or interest, you can gain a sense of belonging, whether you’re on or off campus. Plus, Cornell’s clubs are great, so you should definitely consider joining at least one! Cornell CampusGroups has an extensive list of Cornell’s many clubs.

Taking care of yourself

Stress can make feelings of loneliness even worse, so you want to try to minimize stressful situations as much as possible. But when you have a test, two essays and a prelim to deal with, all within a three day span, it’s easy to forget about your mental health. Try to set a schedule for yourself that lets you accomplish your schoolwork but also makes time for you. Attending an Ivy League school won’t get you anywhere if you burn yourself out, so take time to relax and get a proper amount of sleep.

In taking care of yourself, you should also avoid comparing yourself to others. Getting into the whole “I only slept for 2 hours!” back-and-forth really isn’t beneficial for anyone, and certainly not for you; it’ll just stress you out. Avoid actively trying to outdo others; noticing your own progress while focusing on yourself will be much more fulfilling.

Make time to have fun

It seems silly to remind college students to have fun, but it’s very easy to get caught up with assignments and other stressful situations. If you find yourself working too much, schedule some time to enjoy yourself! Whether you enjoy chatting with friends, listening to music, watching TV or playing video games, make sure you have a healthy balance between work and play.

You can also have fun while exploring what Cornell has to offer. If you love being in nature, spend a day in the Botanic Gardens or walk along Beebe Lake. If you’re into exercise, you have a variety of recreational facilities to choose from; or, if you’d rather stay fit from home, you can take part in online exercise classes as well. If you love to read, check out Cornell’s many different libraries! Whatever you’re interested in, Cornell’s campus is sure to provide you with new opportunities for you to enjoy yourself.

Use your resources and reach out

Cornell has a wide range of resources that you can use to get connected with others on campus. Your professors and advisors are a good start. Attend their office hours or schedule meetings with them so you can get to know each other; this kind of networking can grant you future recommendations and research opportunities, which can benefit you in the long run.

While there are quite a lot of campus resources available at Cornell, I would recommend the Tatkon Center. It’s a great way to get connected with other students and programs as a freshman, and it’s still active even though the physical office is closed. The organization is staffed with junior and senior students, and they host weekly themed Zoom meetings (“Mindfulness Mondays” and “Wellness Wednesdays”) that you can attend to take a breather and also interact with your peers. They also have a Zoom Room where you can pop in and ask your upperclassmen any questions you have about anything! Our resources on campus ensure that you’ll never be alone in your college journey.

Talk about your feelings

If you’ve tried all these things but still have pervading feelings of loneliness, there may be a deeper cause. Talking to someone about how you feel can be intimidating, but it’s often helpful to share your thoughts with someone you trust. It’s important to know that you don’t have to bear your burdens alone — your confidant believes in you and cares about you, and they’ll always be willing to listen to you and help you. 

Who you choose to confide in is your choice, but they should ultimately be someone you trust; a close friend or family member is usually a good choice. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, you can talk to a faculty member or someone else you trust. (Keep in mind that they may be obligated to report certain things that they find extremely concerning — it’s not confidential).

Cornell also has numerous support services that you can reach out to while still maintaining confidentiality. You can schedule an appointment with Cornell Health in order to discuss your mental health with a professional counselor and receive help if you need it. Loneliness is actually a common reason why students make mental health appointments, so don’t feel like you’re the only one struggling emotionally. You can also reach out to Cornell’s Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service; it’s a confidential service that lets you talk to a trained peer counselor about your feelings. EARS also has a mobile app called Unmasked; it’s a completely anonymous support service that lets you share your honest thoughts about how you’re feeling with your peers.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling right now. This semester is highly unconventional and many of us are struggling to adjust to social distancing on campus and classes over Zoom. Hopefully, you can use this list to help you make new friends despite the difficulties, and to talk candidly about your loneliness if you need to. Here at Cornell, you’ll always have people to support you — no matter how lonely you feel, you’ll never be alone.

From wherever you are in the world, I wish you a great rest of your fall semester!

Dylan McIntyre can be reached at drm293@cornell.edu.

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