Loneliness is often considered a taboo, particularly amongst young people. Perhaps because it is generally associated with the elderly – or at least seen to be more understandable amongst older people – young people experiencing loneliness often suffer in silence. The stigma may be greater than ever, but we believe it’s time to dispel this stigma.
With Christmas around the corner, students and young people are faced with extravagant Christmas traditions imposing on their personal space, the stress of additional expenditure and many foreign exchange students face spending Christmas away from home and their family.
A recent study published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that students and young people fall into the loneliest category in the UK. The ONS found that in 2017, those aged between 16 and 24 were the loneliest age group, experiencing feelings of loneliness “often/always”.
At Christmas, emotions are heightened with forced cheer encompassing everything, and feelings of loneliness can quickly spiral into feelings of desperation and despair. Writer Katie, from Counselling Directory details how, together, we can combat those feelings of loneliness, particularly for students who can’t or won’t go home this festive season.
Top Tips for Self-care at Christmas
Make your own family.
Now is the perfect time to build friendships with students in the same boat as you. Perhaps there are lots of foreign students who, like you, can’t get home for the holidays or don’t celebrate the festive season. Reach out to these groups and build foundations so, when university closes for Christmas, you all have a support network and are there for each other. The university’s SU, campus radio or Facebook are great avenues to find students in a similar position.
Find a community.
Immerse yourself in the local community if you’re finding uni life challenging. At Christmas time, charities are often understaffed as people are off for the holidays, so try volunteering at a local dog rescue or home for the elderly. You’ll be preoccupied with a new purpose and have the ability to contact a whole new friendship group – plus enjoy a Christmas outing with plenty of new people!
Do your research.
Perhaps the UK isn’t your home turf and travelling home isn’t possible at this time of year. Research groups and events associated with your nationality and try to join or attend an event. You can create your own ‘Aussie-style’ Christmas or even take a weekend trip away with your fellow nationals. Each of you will understand the difficulties and emotions of having Christmas away from home, and it’s a perfect time to bond and support one another.
Counsellor Quintus Farrell provides some expert insight.
“Amidst the business and stimulation of daily life, people feel neglected, ignored and unloved. Loneliness and solitude are different from each other. Some people love to be on their own while some people can feel lonely amongst others, even those they have a close relationship with.”
Not everyone celebrates Christmas or has a bustling home to go back to. For those of us who feel lonely, a dark winter can be a very low time. Here are a few ideas to help cope with those feelings:
- Plan something for each day and try to involve others if you can. Even if it’s just running an errand or going out for a coffee, having an activity to look forward to will break up the day and keep your mind focused on something other than feelings of loneliness. Your university will also have a calendar of events that can help connect you to other students.
- Speak with friends. Instead of sending a text message, speak to your friends in real time. Technology has made this a lot easier for students today with FaceTime/Viber/Facebook video message/Skype.
- Read a book, plan a walk, visit an interesting place or, if you’re so inclined, a church, mosque, synagogue, temple or community centre. Trying something new stimulates the brain and gives you a rest from the vicious circle of negative thoughts.
- Offer your help to a charity, they will be very grateful for your support – and, in return, can support you. Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose.
- Go outside. Even if the weather is terrible, go for a walk. Exercise really helps release endorphins, the feel-good hormone triggering positive emotions in the body.
- Get creative. Cooking, baking, painting; any hobby that gives the mind some breathing space is essential to prevent feelings of loneliness turning into feelings of despair.
Remember, feelings of loneliness at university are completely normal but if you do find yourself in despair, there is always someone to turn to. PAPYRUS offers a national helpline service, HOPELINEUK, for young people who may be having thoughts of suicide and for anyone who may be worried about a young person who may be struggling. HOPELINEUK is a confidential helpline which offers practical support and information. Call HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141