Never felt more alone(ly)

By Kimberly Pang

Picture this. Adrenaline driven sleepless nights, heart-to-heart talks with your best friends till the sun starts streaming in the window, sitting on the grass patch with your tight-knit group of international mix-gendered friends, the humorous chaos in walking the tightrope between excelling in your academic work and having a hectic social life. Is that worthy of the hashtag ‘#universitycore? 

I’m sure this is what many of us were picturing coming into young adulthood and university. Maybe it’s the life some of us are lucky to be living now. Yet, we are also familiar with the occasional epiphany that university is merely a compilation of self-induced mouse moments where you realise that there is not a single person you feel close enough to confide in, and you have never felt more alone.  

However, it appears that this is not an isolated phenomenon pertaining to Singapore, but one that applies to university students all over the world. A recent study in the UK that surveyed over 10,000 students showed that almost one in four students are lonely most or all of the time, which is four times worse as compared to adults, where one in twenty adults stated to feel lonely in a similar way.  

A simple search on Reddit is enough to illuminate the prevalence of this problem among our peers. Speaking from personal experience as well as conversations with friends, loneliness seems to sprout from the lack of comfortable and familiar company. Some of the common causes of this could be difficulty in making friends, the lack of energy to socialise and the transient quality of friendships you forge with your classmates when you try to make the effort. This is a sudden and rather stark contrast from previous stages of our lives, where we were constantly surrounded with the same group of people. This gives us more opportunities and time to bond with individuals, rather than having to make superficial connections with different people all the time. The despondence from isolation, of course, is further exacerbated by the long-standing struggle to maintain an above average GPA, the lack of a proper support system at home, or even prevailing mental health issues.  

Credit: Reddit

Like the rest of the University population, I am not immune to feelings of loneliness. My first year of university was especially difficult for me, mainly due to the rather drastic change in environment, and the inability to make friends whom I could click with. I was never the type of person who needed a large group of friends. I only needed one, whom I was fortunate enough to find in every stage of my life except for this one. It made me demoralised to think that despite all the effort I was putting in, I could not even find that one friend I needed. As a result, I spent a lot of my time alone in my hall room, scrolling through Instagram only to discover that everyone else seemed to have found their crowd and was having a thrilling University experience. This exacerbated my isolation and led me to question my character; If I was just unlikable as a person, if perhaps I was not putting enough effort, why I couldn’t do something that seemingly everyone else could, so on and so forth.   

However, in the same way that loneliness had haunted me, it also taught me new things about myself. Truth be told, being alone is a kind of default that everyone will need to be comfortable with. This is especially so when we embark on our different endeavours after graduation, where it will be almost impossible to have a best friend by your side 24/7. Furthermore, I think who you are when you are alone speaks volumes as compared to who you are in a crowd.  

In the time I have spent alone, I have learnt the value of self-reliance and assurance, both of which have helped ease my sense of isolation over time. The experience has also unveiled the importance of being proactive in my relationships with those around me. Sitting back and waiting for people to invite me to things will probably no longer work in this stage of life onwards, where everyone has packed schedules and their own lives to live.  

With this revelation comes the age-old question how do I stop feeling lonely? Unfortunately, neither Reddit nor I can give you a sure-fire answer to the question. However, I do have a few suggestions on what might help you better cope with it! Speaking from personal experience, the most effective way to overcome loneliness is through distraction. Keeping yourself occupied by joining clubs or interest groups is not only a schedule-filler, but also a great way to meet new people (AKA more opportunities for you to find your potential uni BFF!). On that same train of thought, I have also learnt that saying ‘yes’ more will lead you to exhilarating experiences that you may not expect. As an introvert who constantly second-guessed my decisions in fear of unfamiliarity and socialisation, I found myself turning down experiences that I could have enjoyed, a decision which often left me back in my hall room, alone. Hence, instead of carefully deliberating if you would have fun or be comfortable with the crowd involved before agreeing to it, just say ‘yes’! Although initially frightening, the boost of adrenaline that comes from the spontaneity of the decision, as well as the experience of being out of your comfort zone might give you newfound excitement   a feeling that may overpower that of loneliness. Diving head-first into new experiences also gives you an opportunity to discover new things about yourself, and even forge or deepen connections with people.  

Alternatively, find a new hobby or do something that makes you happy. Doing things that you enjoy and accomplishing new challenges which you may have never thought you were capable of doing boosts self-esteem and self-assurance. Partaking in hobbies is correlated to higher levels of positive physiological states and gives you something to look forward to during the day, both of which help prevent feelings of loneliness from emerging despite being alone. 

Last but not least, it is also crucial to remember that loneliness, like any other emotion, will come and go. If you feel like it has the potential to consume you, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Apart from speaking to your trusted friends or family about it, speaking to an uninvolved third party like  a school counsellor might give you new perspectives on your problems and introspective solutions on how to overcome them. , You might find it easier to open up and share your problems to a stranger as compared to someone who is in the same boat. 

What about the idealized image of sitting on a grass patch in campus with your clique of multiracial friends? Getting rid of it also helps! After all, at the end of the day, not all mouse moments have to be overlain with melancholic music. If you think about it, they are more empowering than any social situation you can be in.  

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