Independence seems to have the reputation of being a virtue. The idea of self-governance is often portrayed as being synonymous to maturity and empowerment. At this time in our lives, going off to university can feel like the first time we’ve exercised our right to make our own decisions.  We get to experience living away from our parents, choosing the people we surround ourselves with and deciding how to spend our free time.

The seemingly endless choices we are faced with can feel overwhelming

Although college years tend to focus on “finding” oneself, often the seemingly endless choices we are faced with can feel overwhelming. What’s worse, arguably, is feeling isolated by the fear that you might have made the wrong choice. In this day and age, the topic of mental well-being is a popular one, and countless stories of the struggles of feeling secluded are always in circulation. While it is somewhat comforting to know you’re not alone, it can be more helpful to figure out the sources of the problem, in hopes of alleviating the burden.

One of the most common causes of unhappiness is the sense of social isolation. Maybe you came to school accompanied by a few friends from your hometown, and are unsure of the idea of finding an entirely new friend group. Conversely, sticking with the same group of friends from high school may make you feel out of place as you grow throughout your degree. Feeling out-of-place in a school of thousands of students can be debilitating. 

Feeling out-of-place in a school of thousands of students can be debilitating. 

A useful strategy when you’re feeling out of place is to focus on your outer circle of friends. Try bonding with the intramural team you joined on a whim or someone in your class who always says hello. You never know who you might hit it off with.     

While certain degrees have the reputation of being extremely difficult and others may seem simple, each one presents different challenges. Long class hours, frequent essays or lab reports that feel like they have no end may cause a variety of detrimental results. Perhaps you feel like you’re always cancelling plans to complete your work, or maybe you just don’t feel up to seeing friends by the time you’ve submitted it just before the deadline. Usually, the repercussions of academic stress creep in until you feel too overwhelmed to break the cycle of isolation. 

Here are a few tricks I’ve found that help make time for friends, while still being productive. First, try a study buddy. Even if you’re not the type to work through problems with others, doing assignments in a group of peers in a building on campus can subtly relieve tension. When you take a study break, instead of watching 20 minutes of the TV show you’re currently binging, try meeting a pal for coffee. It’s also important to know when to give yourself a break. Find time during the week to take off a big chunk of time, like going out for drinks or staying in to order pizza with a friend.

Sometimes the feeling of loneliness at this time in our lives comes from failing to achieve the unrealistic expectation of perfection. Every high-schooler has some idea of the twisted utopia of university. 

Envisioning befriending everyone you met, going to fantastic parties and never waking up with a hangover or any regrets, all while gliding through classes with ease, is not realistic.

It may be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you will argue with your housemates and may fail a test or exam. Overall, this particular feeling of seclusion tends to come from telling yourself you’re not accomplishing your objectives, whether social, academic or otherwise. A key step to overcoming the feeling of isolation is appreciating that a large part of “finding” yourself, is overcoming the adversity you face in the next couple years. When in doubt put on your favourite playlist and go for a long walk. Or, reach out for a little help from your friends.   


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