Loneliness as a messenger
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are lacking social contacts when feeling lonely.”
Many different emotions guide us through the day. They send a clear message. Anger tells us that
our boarders have been crossed in some way. Anxiety signals fear of social exclusion or fear of pain or death. Loneliness is an emotional state that sends the message that we are feeling disconnected. It signals the mismatch between connections that we have and connections that we want to have. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are lacking social contacts when feeling lonely. You can also be in an environment with a lot of friends or acquaintances but still feeling disconnected and lonely. I recall a time in one of my previous relationships where I felt disconnected even though I was spending a lot of time with my partner. Somehow, I felt misunderstood. There is an important difference between feeling lonely and being alone. We can spend a whole weekend alone without feeling disconnected or lonely, if we made the conscious choice to spend time by ourself. If you feel lonely, it is an unpleasant feeling of being disconnected.
“Try to break out of this habit and be more attentive for the people surrounding you, opening yourself up for connection.”
All students probably feel lonely at some point during their study. Especially, international students struggle with loneliness since they have left their home and are disconnected from their country. They have to build a completely new social network while at the same time having to adjust to the new environment. You can read more about this in one of the previous blogs ‘Going Abroad’. A research conducted in Australia clearly demonstrates what is happening in Groningen as well. 200 Australian international students were intensively interviewed about their feelings of loneliness (Sawir, Marginson, Deumert, Nyland & Ramia 2008). The researchers categorized three different ‘types’ of loneliness the students were experiencing. Personal loneliness is experienced when students feel (geographically) disconnected from their families. Social loneliness is experienced by the loss of their network in their home country. Another important aspect is cultural loneliness. This arises from the loss of their natural cultural environment and the inability to communicate in their native language.
Feeling connected in the world of social media
Sherry Turkle made a good point in her talk ‘connected but alone’ stating that social media is powerful in creating connection but at the same time can hinder connection. Imagine a time when you got a text from someone that lighted up your day. A few words on your screen make you feel more connected to that person. At the same time, while waiting for the bus, surrounded by people staring at their phones, it is impossible to connect with these people. As a teacher, I see the default mode of many students to take their phones when the break starts after the first half of a lecture. Try to break out of this habit and be more attentive for the people surrounding you, opening yourself up for connection. If someone asks for directions start a short conversation instead of just telling the way. If someone is having a confused look while staring at the bus schedule, offer to help. This openness for contact fosters connection with people in your daily life.
“Maybe that person inspires you or you inspire that person.”
How to strengthen connection
Start to think about how connected you feel with different people in your surroundings. With whom do you feel connected within your family? Within your group of friends? Within your studies? Do you feel connected with a stranger? Who is that? This could for example be that neighbor with whom you are exchanging smiles when stepping into your building but have never talked to. Write down the persons you feel connected to. In a next step, challenge yourself to answer the question why you feel connected to that person. Is it because you think you share similar emotions, have gone through similar experiences or because you share the same passion? Maybe that person inspires you or you inspire that person. After answering these questions, you focus on how you
could strengthen these connections in the upcoming week? This could be by calling that friend you would like to have a coffee with or by starting a conversation with that neighbor you have not talked to yet. Just a little thing to strengthen the bond and feel more connected. If you feel lonely, prioritize connections and prioritize relationships. This does mean being brave and stepping out of your comfort zone. Small things can be enough like asking a friend for a coffee date. Opening up and sharing about yourself can help strengthen connections. You could also think about joining a sports team or doing some voluntary work. Try to switch the focus from things you cannot control at that moment (feeling lonely) to things you can control (prioritize connection, taking action).
If you recognize yourself in this blog and would like some guidance, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Deumert, A., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2008). Loneliness and international students: An Australian study. Journal of studies in international education, 12(2), 148-180.
Inspiration was taken from: