How is it possible to feel alone in a crowd? Among 50,000 other students, I thought I’d arrive on campus and surely find my place shortly thereafter. How could I not with such a massive pool of students and clubs? I had seen cliques form as early as Preview. A few months in, and it still hadn’t happened to me.
It would be around two years before I’d really settle anywhere. Looking back, I think this span of time was critical to my own growth, but in the moment it definitely didn’t feel like it. So, today, I would like to offer a few words of advice from a formerly lonely student.
For starters, I’ve found through my own experiences that people will often unfairly pair their loneliness with self-criticism and feel that it’s somehow our own fault for feeling isolated. Did you know that across a 12-month period, 64 percent of students will have felt “very lonely?” Or that 46 percent of the United States population feels lonely regularly? Isn’t it crazy that we live in the most interconnected time in history, yet we are feeling increasingly more alone?
The truth of the matter is that loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of how many friends they had before college, their level of charisma or anything else. You don’t even really have to be alone to feel lonely. It’s entirely possible and valid to be surrounded by people you know and still feel isolated.
I think the first thing we should do is recognize these thoughts are very normal. It can take a long time for a new place to feel like home, especially when our home is designed to challenge us. That doesn’t just apply to campus, but future jobs too. Loneliness is not a “once and done” thing. I think that it’s unrealistic to expect to toss away loneliness forever, and I am really not qualified to say anything different. However, I found that the best way for me to tackle it was to reframe it as an opportunity to be constructive.
In making the most of solitude, I think that we should all be spending as little time in our rooms as possible, especially with the door closed, blinds drawn and lights off. Basically, don’t be me on weekends. Instead, try to do as much as possible elsewhere. You can set up a laptop at Library West or pull up a hammock to read on Plaza of the Americas. At the beginning of the week, look and see what events are being put on over the following days. A few standouts are anything happening at the Harn Museum of Art or anything put on by some of our cultural organizations. By doing this, you might meet new friends, but that really is not the point of including them. I think the time we spend alone can be an incredible opportunity for self-growth and reflection. Being productive and alone, I think, is an important skill to learn for the future. Activities that provide the most intellectual stimuli seem like great ways to spend that time.
Of course, loneliness is a seemingly normal occurrence, but anyone’s pain as a result of it is completely valid and worth paying attention to. In fact, studies have shown that social pain as a result of loneliness activates the same mechanisms in your brain as physical pain. If you feel like you’re suffering from loneliness, or if anything else is giving you a hard time, I’d encourage you to make use of the Counseling & Wellness Center, the UF Care Area or the Alachua County Crisis Center. The numbers for each will be listed below this article.
Don’t be in too much of a rush to find your place on campus. It might take time, and that’s okay. While it’s okay to experience this loneliness, the pain it may bring is valid and deserves care too. As always, look out for others who might be going through hard times, and good luck on midterms.
- UF Counseling & Wellness Center: 352-392-1575
- UF Care Area Team: 352-294-2273
- Alachua County Crisis Center: 352-264-6789
Matthew Diaz is the Hispanic caucus leader in UF Student Government Senate.
Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash