Loneliness can be experienced at any time in many forms by both domestic and international students. It can emerge after a change of geographical or social environment (new city, new course), following the loss of a significant relationship or be present in a chronic manner. Boldero & Moore (1990) found that Australians students had the same level of risk of loneliness as their American counterparts (Schultz & Moore, 1986). Sawir et al. (2008) found that 65% of international students in Australia had experienced loneliness or isolation at some point during their university years.
Loneliness differs from aloneness and isolation and while spending some time alone can be a deliberate decision, loneliness is seldom a choice. When separated from usual friends, support networks or family, students can feel both isolated and lonely. One may feel lonely when surrounded by people and experience a sense of disconnection from the rest of a group.
Loneliness can be a sign that some important emotional needs are not met. It may be experienced as a lack of:
- connection with others, opportunities to share feelings and important experience with someone
- sense of belonging
- security and familiarity within your environment and with people
To overcome loneliness some will focus on extending their social network while others will prefer developing closer bonds with a lesser number of people. Depending on your personality and cultural of origin, your needs may differ.
While Stokes (1985) suggested that the loneliness of college students could mainly be improved by increasing the size of their networks, further research underlined a more multidimensional approach (Rokach & Brock,1998; Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999). For instance, Sawir et al. (2008) observed that international students experiencing loneliness reported less close friendships and more casual friendships showing that both the quantity and the quality of relationships matter. Furthermore, addressing individual obstacles that could prevent students from engaging socially with their peers or enjoying their time on their own would also be of importance.
Here are a few strategies to consider that may help alleviating loneliness.
Extending your network
Be proactive and reach out to people both within and outside of the university community.
Get involved in your community life:
- Share your personal interests with like-minded people; music, sport, art, politics… Sharing an activity is a great way to break the ice and meet people. Consider societies and clubs you could join, get informed on Melbourne’s active cultural life and invite someone to join you.
- Get a part-time job
- Engage in volunteering
- Create situations favourable to social contacts in your daily life, such as asking someone in your class to be your study partner, offer to have a coffee or lunch after a class.
Relationships where you can share personal, private parts of your life and feel understood can significantly ease loneliness.
- Share some of your experiences with someone, disclose a bit about yourself (the things you like, what you do during your free time or did during the weekend).
- Reach out to someone when you are having a difficult time. Talk to someone about your situation. They may not be able to resolve your problem but they can offer to their presence, emotional validation and support which are important ingredients of a strong friendship.
- Value and appreciate your friendships for their unique characteristics. Not all your relationships have to have the same level of closeness or meet the same needs.
- Intimate friendships take time and care. Be patient and allocate some time in your schedule to be present and share with the people you care about.
Reducing personal obstacles
Awkwardness, shyness or anxiety can get in the way of interactions with others. Many students experience some level of discomfort when meeting new people or interacting in group settings.
- Developing your social skills. Practice is key in gaining confidence in your social interactions. Practice greeting a classmate, small chat and getting involved in class discussions. Being mindful of self-criticism and adopting a gentle and compassionate approach in your assessment of how well you did will help maintain a positive growth mindset and foster further progress. If initiating contact with new people is intimidating to you, come and practice at our Workshop “creating social connections”.
- Pay attention to your thoughts and self-talk. Our thoughts influence how we feel and this may prevent us from engaging in an interaction with someone. For example, if you worry about what you will say, how it will be received, and what others will think of you. Some of these concerns may have an element of truth, but when we look closely at them, they are often disproportionate or distorted in term of likeliness or risk and consequences. Challenging those unhelpful thoughts or keeping your mind focused away from them, on the here and now for instance, can help in regaining control and reducing any negative effect on your social life. If you find your self-talk is having a negative impact on how you feel, a counsellor could help you navigate the techniques mentioned above.
Spending time alone in a meaningful way
Among other mechanisms used to cope with loneliness, Rokach & Brock (1998) named the frequent use of self-reflective and self-development strategies. Spending time alone offers the opportunity to discover more about oneself and practice individual creativity. Being mindful of how you spend your time alone helps insuring those activities will be pleasurable and fulfilling for you.
- Time spent on the Internet, mobile phones and in front of the TV doesn’t always feel rewarding. Some researchers have found correlations between internet and mobile phone use and degrees of loneliness (Moody 2001; Wang et al. 2015), it may be worthwhile to reflect on how you use these media. While Skype and messengers apps can be great tools to maintain contact with people, they offer a different type of interactions and may not be sufficient in term of interpersonal life satisfaction.
- Spending time on your own could be the occasion to explore and express more your individuality. Learning something new (e.g. playing an instrument), listening to music, reading, writing, arts can offer relaxing and rewarding moments.
- Don’t wait for company to engage in something you are interested in. Going to a movie, a concert, treating yourself with nice coffee or dinner, attending cultural events, visiting your city or travelling... all those activities may be as enjoyable on your own.
If loneliness is of concern to you, counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services are available to discuss your situation with you.
Boldero, J., Moore, S. (1990). An Evaluation of de Jong-Giervaid's Loneliness. Model With Australian Adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, VoL 19, No. 2, 1990.
Ernst, J. M., Cacioppo, J. T. (1999) Lonely hearts: Psychological perspectives on loneliness. Applied & Preventive Psychology, 8:1-22.
Moody, E. J. (2001) Internet Use and Its Relationship to Loneliness. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, Volume 4, Number 3, 393-401.
Rokach, A., & Brock, H. (1998). Coping with loneliness. Journal of Psychology,132, 107-127.
Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Deumert, A., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2008). Loneliness and International Students: An Australian Study. Journal Of Studies In International Education, 12(2), 148-180.
Schultz, N. R., and Moore, D. (1986). The loneliness experience of college students: Sex differences. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 12: 111-119.
Stokes, J. P. (1985). The relation of social network and individual difference variables to loneliness. Journal Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 981-990.
Wang, Hui-hui; Wang, Meng-cheng, Wu Sheng-gi (2015). Mobile phone addiction symptom profiles related to interpersonal relationship and loneliness for college students: a latent profile analysis, Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology. Vol.23 (5), pp. 881-885.