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6 practical ways to deal with loneliness

New research shows that almost one in four university students are lonely most or all of the time – here’s how to cope

Despite the communal living and boundless opportunities for socialising, university can often be a profoundly lonely place. Sometimes it hits you in a lecture hall when you realise that you don’t know a single other person in the room. Or it can strike while you’re scrolling through Instagram on a Friday night and it feels like everyone in the world is out partying except you. Or maybe you’ll be writing an essay in the library and feel a sudden urge to fire up the Trainline app and immediately go home.

If you’ve felt lonely at uni, you’re not alone. New research from the Higher Education Policy Institute found that almost one in four students are lonely most or all of the time, making students four times more likely to suffer from loneliness than the general population. According to the study, 59 per cent of all students said they were lonely most of the time, all of the time, or at least once a week.

Trans students were more likely to report that they felt lonely for much of the time (37 per cent), as were disabled students (36 per cent) and Black students (31 per cent).

Naturally, student loneliness worsened during the pandemic. The reduction of face-to-face teaching, loss of social opportunities, and money struggles have all undoubtedly made student life harder and more isolating. But as we emerge out of the pandemic, how can we ensure that students feel less lonely? How can we make student life as joyful, communal, and fun as it once was? Here are some genuinely helpful tips to combating loneliness at uni.


This sounds like incredibly banal advice, but starting to cultivate relationships with people you have to see regularly is a good place to start. Try to find common ground and go from there.

Psychotherapist Pamela Roberts, of Priory’s Woking Hospital, says: “Come off your phone and join things where phone use isn’t necessary. Check in daily with those around you. Cook for them or eat with them or bake with them. Be companionable. Watch a Netflix movie together. Laughing together is great for bonding. Consider some kind of volunteering with your housemates – the mental health effects of volunteering have been shown to be enormous.”

It also helps to be proactive: we’re all guilty of lying in bed waiting for someone to hit us up with an exciting invitation somewhere, but it’s worth remembering that you can ask people to hang out too. 


Turning up to an event where you know no one might sound like your idea of hell, but it’s worth pushing through the initial awkwardness in order to foster future friendships. “Don’t feel inhibited or intimidated,” Roberts says. “There are sports clubs, student newspapers, theatre groups, cycling groups. It is a great way to spend time doing stimulating, or physical, activity with like-minded people.”

Plus, as Roberts points out, if you sign up to something that really does turn out to be a disaster, you don’t have to go back. “Join clubs you think you might like, and you can always drop the weirder ones later!”


If you’re really struggling, open up to someone you feel you can talk to, like a relative, friend, or partner. If you feel you need professional help, universities often have counselling services available and there are many other mental health resources available online. “Make use of hotlines and also mental health apps,” Roberts suggests.

“Therapy is often discounted in price for students or can sometimes be free. You might be able to access it by video or online. Download some apps - there are lots that can help with mental health such as My Possible Self (which is free), Headspace, or Calm.”

She continues: “Never suffer in silence. There is always someone out there to listen, including The Samaritans (if you feel you need immediate help, call 116 123, any time of day) and organisations such as the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Papyrus, Sane and Student Minds provide excellent advice and support.”


If you’re lonely, it might be tempting to lose yourself in TikTok or stay on the phone to your long-distance partner 24/7. While these can be ways of distracting yourself from loneliness, they don’t do very much to address the problem at the root.

“Be active and sociable and try to limit your phone use. Ensure face to face time with those around you,” Roberts says. “Phone use can suck up your time and morale leaving you feeling deflated and demoralised and prone to ‘compare and despair’. Not everyone else is having riotous fun, even if their Insta accounts appear to say otherwise.”


If possible, it’s great to immerse yourself in nature. “Lots of research has shown that being outside among trees and wildlife, listening to birdsong, and walking barefoot on the grass is good for your mental health,” Roberts says. “Make sure you get outside as much as possible. It helps with mindfulness and will ensure you receive your Vitamin D, sunshine permitting. Even being caught in the rain can be soothing.”


Next time you feel lonely, take yourself out. It’s incredibly liberating to realise that you don’t need to wait for someone to do things with you – you can do them by yourself. If the idea of going out for a meal on your own is a little too daunting, start small – take a book to a coffee shop or go on a long walk alone. 

“Time spent alone can be great downtime. You will also be alone when you are studying so take care of yourself and relish the solitude,” Roberts says. “Alone, you can recharge your batteries and be still. It’s important ‘recovery’ time and will help keep you in balance.”