Loneliness can be very painful but is also very common. When you feel lonely, resist the temptation to stay in your shell—get active and reach out to others.
Loneliness is the painful awareness of not feeling connected to others. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. We may be alone for long periods of time without feeling lonely. On the other hand we can feel our most lonely in a packed lecture theatre or in the middle of a raging party.
Ka eke mai te mokemoke ki nga tangata katoa. Tera pea, kare koe e whaiwahi ki to whanau, ki ohoa, ka whakaiti koe i a koe ano. Kia mohio mai koe, he mana ano to te tangata ahakoa ko wai Korerohia o awangawanga - tatau, tatau e.
If you experience loneliness, you are not alone! A recent survey showed that a quarter of adults experience painful loneliness at least every couple of weeks. The incidence loneliness among students is even higher. Loneliness is neither a permanent state nor 'bad' in itself. But it can be a signal that some of your important needs are not being met.
Why we feel lonely
There are many reasons why we experience loneliness:
- we're alone and feel it wasn't our choice
- we're feeling the lack of the loving secure environment we had in the past—when leaving home or after the break-up of a relationship
- we're facing major changes in our life—a new university, country, city, or job
- we feel there's no one with whom we can share our feelings and experiences
- we believe we are somehow unacceptable or unlovable.
How we make it worse
When we feel lonely, we are very susceptible to negative misconceptions about loneliness. Some of the classic things we tell ourselves are:
- "Loneliness is a sign of weakness, or immaturity."
- "There's something wrong with me if I'm lonely."
- "I'm the only one who feels this way."
None of these statements is true. Many of us think these things when we are lonely - the more we think this way, the more lonely we feel, and this affects how we act. We start to expect others to reject us, and hesitate to reach out and talk to other people. We become easily discouraged, lose the confidence and motivation to socialise, and isolate ourselves further.
What to do about it
Loneliness can be overcome. You can do something about it. You may find it difficult, especially if you're shy, but even very small steps can start to make a difference. If you are feeling lonely, there are many ways you can take action:
- Value all your friendships and their unique characteristics rather than believing that only a romantic relationship will relieve your loneliness. Intimate friendships usually develop gradually as people learn to share their inner feelings.
- Get involved with shared activities you are genuinely interested in, such as a cultural group, hobby, sports team, or a part-time job. Being with people who are focusing on an activity you all enjoy can quickly lead to personal bonds being formed.
- Seek out situations and be receptive to approaches which enable you to get involved with other students. For example, ask someone in your class to be your study or exercise buddy.
- Learn to admire and accept people’s differences. Give your lecturers, tutors, classmates and peers a chance, and try to get to know them. Finding friends and developing relationships takes time.
- Use your time alone to enjoy yourself. If you learn to enjoy and value your own company, you'll find that others are more likely to also.
- Seek out and nurture situations in which you feel comfortable. Have lunch with a friend, or talk with others at the gym, or in your tutorial groups.
- Volunteer work is a good way to learn about yourself and connect with others, and can help to boost your self-esteem.
- Get involved in things that you enjoy—be it music, art, sport or something else.
- Take good care of yourself—eat properly, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
- Don't define yourself as a lonely person. No matter how bad you feel, loneliness is not a permanent state and will diminish if you feel active and involved.
- You may want to develop your social skills. Learning to initiate contact with others will help. Try a simple smile or saying hello to a classmate. Get involved in class discussions.
If meeting new people and starting new relationships is something you find particularly difficult, consider speaking to a counsellor or look at the group programme at Student Counselling.