The period between a person’s late teens and early twenties often marks a tumultuous time. Most people are graduating high school and beginning university, coming face to face, sometimes rather harshly and quickly, with major life decisions. (What postsecondary institution are you attending? What are you going to study? Will your studies pay off in ten years?) If you’re reading this post, you’ve likely already made the decision to come to York. And what a grand place it is, full of clubs and study resources to help you meet new people and succeed academically. As a whole, the postsecondary experience, no matter the university you choose, is often made to look like a stroll through a garden. Yet as current students, we know it is not always, for a number of reasons. One of the reasons for the lack of breeziness often gets neglected: a sense of isolation.
From my experience, a feeling of isolation can stem from our grand, unrealistic expectations of what university will be like. When I was in high school, I saw my acceptance to York as a fresh start. I would be engaging with mature and friendly people who I’d meet in class and end up creating everlasting friendships with. Get ready, Instagram — squad goal levels will break through the roof! My followers will be bombarded with my smiling face as I party the Friday nights away with my BFFs.
Fast-forward to halfway through my second year, and that scenario has not exactly come to be. In university (as elsewhere), it can be difficult to connect with people, or even just with the general environment. Maybe you’re not doing as well academically as you did in high school and feel like everyone but you is excelling. (My colleague Sam recently wrote a post about dealing with academic difficulties in university,) Or maybe you’re not as extroverted as other people, making it more difficult for you to find instantaneous friends. It’s important to know that these situations, and others like them, happen to lots of students at particular moments. You’re not alone.
If such scenarios of feeling alone sound familiar to you, you might appreciate a few tips I’ve compiled that have helped me in dealing with sentiments of isolation. Hopefully, they will help turn your negative feelings into something positive.
One of the issues with isolation, and other negative feelings, is that we try very hard to either ignore them or fix them with false solutions (faking a smile is a common go-to). The best first step is to acknowledge sentiments of loneliness and realize that it is OK to feel that way. No one has it completely together all the time, and instead of fighting it, I suggest you acknowledge that you’re not feeling your best. Stop forcing yourself to sense things you don’t. Each emotion you feel is valid, and you are valid for feeling them.
2. Take Action
Note: I advised to acknowledge, not mull. Take the time to realize that there is discomfort, but try not to dwell on it. Instead, keep busy. No, this is not another person telling you to simply join clubs (although that is a great option for those who thrive in group environments). I’ve been on the unsavory side of getting involved; it’s not all sugar and spice. Sometimes, things don’t work out, or the people you meet are not as great as you once thought. Or you simply might not like being around large numbers of people all the time. Pick the club if it seems like the right solution for you, but if not, there are other kinds of action you can take. You can use your alone time to focus on yourself, for example, and find your interests (if you’re not already sure of what they are). Think about how you like to spend your spare time or what you do to relieve stress. Carve out more time to try new things to help cultivate your hobbies.
Not sure how to connect your personal interests to York? I ran into the same problem. When I was first introduced to College life, I instantly wanted to get involved. My major (English) affiliates me with Stong College, but Stong is primarily a sports-centered college, so I felt a little out of place with my interests. After some digging, though, I discovered The Flying Walrus, Stong’s student newspaper. I started writing for it, but after my first year, the editor and senior writers moved on to other commitments, leaving no one to run the paper. I decided to jump in, because I thought it was important to have a voice for English, Professional and Creative Writing majors in a sea of jocks. I thought I was a lone word-lover in this particular environment, but when I recently put out a call for articles, many people responded, and I met a lot of great writers. Following your passion will eventually bring your community, your kind of people, to you.
My last tip is for those of you who may have been struggling with a sense of isolation for longer. In university, it’s challenging to balance school, possibly a job and other personal issues that come about during your time as a student. If you are really feeling the burn, or hopeless, do reach out to a parent, close friend or counselor. It’s not a sign of weakness to do so, and it can happen to anyone. Despite some challenges, university is a great opportunity, and there are people and resources on and off campus to help you overcome obstacles.
Have you ever dealt with feelings of isolation at university? How did you deal? Let me know in the comments or @yorkustudents! And if you’d like another perspective on the topic, check out a great post on loneliness on a blog I used to write for.