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University is an incredibly exciting time. Ahead of you lies the opportunity to live independently, embrace your newfound freedom, make friends, and pursue a subject you are passionate about.

However, it can feel daunting, especially at first. It might be the first time you have been away from your home, family and friends. Coupled with an unfamiliar city plus new pressures and expectations, it can leave you feeling understandably lonely, homesick and struggling with your mental health.

These difficulties aren’t exclusive to those in first year either. Feelings of loneliness can arise at any time during your studies. Mature students might also suffer from difficulties for entirely different reasons.

No matter where you are on your university journey, it’s important to understand that these feelings are entirely normal and you’re not alone. Here, we provide some self-help tips to help you get back on track, and make the most of your uni experience.

Why do some students feel lonely at university?

Feelings of loneliness could be due to many factors, such as:

  • Trouble making new friends and struggling with new social expectations
  • If living at home during university, or you’re a mature student, you might feel like you’re missing out and unable to get the full experience
  • Moving away from the familiarity of home and family
  • Struggling to adjust to a new environment, like student halls, a new city or even a new country
  • Feelings of isolation from the pressures of studying at a new academic level

Is it normal to feel lonely at university?

It’s easy to think you’re the only person who’s feeling lonely and homesick, but it’s actually really common. Data from the ONS suggests as many 26% of students feel lonely, compared to just 8% of the general population.

How to cope with loneliness at university

Reach out and talk to someone

If you’re feeling lonely it can be easy to bottle it up and withdraw from other people, but this is one of the worst things you can do. Try reaching out and speaking to someone about your troubles, like a flat mate or someone on your course. The evidence shows that you are not alone; the chances are, they’ve been feeling exactly the same.

Set realistic goals

Set yourself a target of speaking to someone new each time you go to a lecture, arranging to go for a coffee with one of your flatmates, and going on a certain number of social events every week.

You can then build up to bigger targets such as joining a club or society, or starting a new hobby.

Join a society or club

Universities are bursting to the brim with social activities, clubs and societies. One of the best ways to combat loneliness is to encourage yourself to join one. If you play sports, why not join a team? If you play a musical instrument, you could look at joining a university band or orchestra.

You can usually find out about your uni’s clubs and societies on their website or at the ‘Fresher’s Fair’ which normally happens in the first few weeks. Joining a society is a great way to meet people with similar interests, become part of a community, and broaden your social circle.

Stay in touch with family and friends

While it’s important to engage with your new surroundings and reach out to new people, one of the best ways to boost your mood is to speak with your friends and family. This is why it’s so important to stay in touch - pick up the phone and call your parents, siblings or friends from home as often as you need to.

Establish a routine

While it may be difficult to create a routine in the busy first few weeks of uni, it’s important to establish a healthy pattern. Try to go food shopping or go to the gym on certain days of the week. Little steps like this can help you feel more settled in your new university life.

Believe in yourself

It’s so important that you don’t blame yourself for feeling lonely or isolated at university. Be positive; tell yourself that things will get better and believe that you are going to have a great experience – the chances are that you will.

When to seek professional help

For some, the feelings of loneliness and homesickness can run a bit deeper, and may not improve over time. It may cause other symptoms to develop, such as panic attacks, and mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.

If you find that negative emotions seem to dominate your life, and you’re feeling low most of the time, it’s really important that you get some professional help. The first place to head is your university’s counselling team via student services. They might be able to offer you peer mentoring or ‘buddy support’, while they also signpost students to various clubs, societies, study support and chaplain/pastoral support too. Alternatively, you can speak to your GP.

Alternatively, you can gain fast access to mental health support via our online therapy service. We offer market leading therapy and counselling services via our online app, meaning you can speak to a highly trained professional at a time and a place that suits you. Plus, we’re currently offering a 25% discount to all students, for each therapy session you have with us. You can find out more about Priory Connect and our student offer here.

Remember, you’re not alone and you don’t have to struggle with your mental health at uni – help is available.

Blog reviewed by Michelle Pragnell, Therapist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre Southampton.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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