Now four years into living across the water from my family and friends, I can assure you that I’ve experienced many times of feeling lonely.
Moving away to England for university at the age of 18 was daunting, exciting and all very new. I had no idea whether I would make friends with the people I would be living with, the people in my classes or anyone at all. I was very lucky to be assigned a flat where all of us got along very well and still remain friends to this day.
I was also incredibly lucky to have a large social circle in Liverpool; through my jobs, accommodation, university and friends of friends. But even when we’re surrounded by a large friendship group, we can still feel incredibly lonely.
Living in London was probably when I felt loneliest most. I had moved there for an incredible intern opportunity and didn’t know a single person in the city. With uni, it’s so much easier to make friends as most people are in the same position as yourself, eager to make new friends and socialise. But in London, it was a lot harder than I imagined. If it hadn’t been for the other interns and my work friends, my London experience would have been a lot lonelier. I wrote a post about ‘Going It Alone‘ when I was feeling rather homesick in London.
However, I enjoy my own company a lot and like doing a lot of things by myself. I guess this comes from being an only child and feeling very independent. But sometimes the loneliness can creep up on you and even though you’re only a short flight from home, it can feel like you’re on the other side of the world, away from everyone you know.
Everyone can feel lonely at times, and I’ve experienced this in both Liverpool and London. One thing I’ve learnt, is that if I am to move further away in the next few years, making friends will need to be a priority. More on this later.
Anyhow, from living away from home for the past four years, this is how I would recommend combating that lonely feeling:
1. Make plans
I always look at my week ahead and make plans so that I have something to look forward to. Even if it’s meeting a friend for lunch, or catching up over a coffee or even just a gym class. Have something (outside of uni or work) that will take your mind off your commitments for a while and that will get you out and about.
Having something to look forward to always makes it easier for me to get through my week. It splits the week up a bit, knowing that you have plans added in here and there. By having plans that don’t involve work or uni, you won’t feel like you are living a Groundhog Day life for the foreseeable.
If you’re finding yourself feeling lonely quite often, maybe book a flight back home for a weekend. One of the girls I used to live with always had a flight booked home once she came back to Liverpool. It meant she always felt like she was going to be seeing her family soon and made the weeks go by a lot easier with that in the back of her mind. I was quite the opposite, always knowing when my flight back to Liverpool was each time I visited home.
2. Join a society, the gym or a club
There’s probably no better way of making a large group of friends than through a society at uni. So I’ve heard. I can’t speak from personal experience as I never actually joined a society. But a lot of people do claim it as ‘the best thing they’ve ever done’, so it must be advisable.
I know it can be extremely daunting rocking up to that first training session or meeting if you don’t already know someone there (probably the reason I never took the plunge to join any) but I bet it’s worth it. Looking back, I wish I had joined a society in my first year as I probably would have had an entire different and added group of friends. But I’m very happy with the friends I have now and my uni experience hasn’t been that bad without having joined a society.
Outside of university, this can be much harder. Unless you play a sport, what kind of club can you join? Perhaps joining a gym can be a good way of meeting new people – especially by taking classes as you can all struggle along together. Besides meeting new people, going to the gym can be a good way of getting out of the house and taking your mind off that feeling of loneliness. Plus exercise is supposed to release good endorphins (once again not speaking from experience as I have never felt amazing after a workout) so you may feel boosted once you leave the gym.
3. Make your new town your home
This is something I struggled to do in London. Nowhere really felt like home as everyone kept to themselves and the city felt like a country in itself. I only started to feel like a true ‘local’ when I went to the gym on Saturday mornings, grabbed a Starbucks after and then headed home to make breakfast. I felt like I had a proper routine in my hometown. But when it comes to the weekends in London, you always feel like you have to be off sightseeing as you’re living in such an amazing city. It’s hard to feel like a resident when you spend so much time living like a tourist.
In Liverpool, I felt like a local when I was in my second year, living in a housing estate and working in a local bar. A few weeks into second year, I got acquainted with the regulars and was made to feel like family. I was going to uni, meeting up with friends, going to the gym, working part-time, living in a house and going out at the weekends. I didn’t feel guilty for spending days off in my house and was always cooking for myself which was something I rarely did in London. Having no food in my fridge on a regular basis also made me feel like a tourist.
To limit feeling like an outsider or tourist in your new town/city, I would suggest getting into a routine of doing normal things that you would usually do at home. Things like going to the gym, grabbing a coffee from your local coffee shop, having a local grocery store, saying hello to your neighbours and just mainly making places your ‘locals’. I think that’s one of the main things for moving to a new city, feeling like a local by having favourite places to go to and becoming a regular face.
4. Keep in touch with your friends and family back home
It’s always nice to hear a familiar voice or see a friendly face so give your family a call from time to time. Even though you’re off doing your own thing and leading a new life, touch base with them once in a while. Your family and friends will miss you and vice versa. Don’t feel like you have to check in with them every single day though. At least give them a chance to miss you.
You’ll soon learn that when you live away from home, you can go six months or more without seeing your best friends but once you reconnect you feel like you haven’t spent one day apart. It’s harder at the start, but you quickly get used to only meeting up with your friends and family a few times per year.
How great that we live in a world with Skype, FaceTime and face screening on every social app going. If you’re missing familiar faces or even your pets at home, they’re only a screen away.
5. Give yourself a pep talk
One of the best ways I find that makes me feel better when I feel a little lonely and homesick is to remind myself why I left in the first place. I look back at everything I’ve achieved so far and know that I wouldn’t have any of this if I hadn’t got on that plane four years ago. I look at how amazing my life is, how many great friends I have, a family that supports me and also how I support myself both mentally and financially.
I’ve achieved so much by setting out by myself while being away from home and I have to let myself feel good for it. Sometimes I question whether it’s all worth it, being away from family and friends but I know that whatever life I have back home would never satisfy me enough, knowing what else is out there.
We all have our down days and there are times I wish I didn’t have all of this responsibility and could go back to my childhood bedroom and pretend that things like rent and student debt don’t exist, but they do. I give myself a little pep talk, gee myself up and make a list of things I want to achieve in my life. Having things to look forward to, work towards and dream of always gives me a purpose to keep going. The loneliness will pass.
Richard Bailey says
This is such an important topic, and I always enjoy reading your views.
I wonder whether we’ve misinterpreted loneliness by bracketing it within the general ‘mental health’ folder. Perhaps loneliness is a necessary condition; the price we pay for living in an individualistic age. After all your career choices are yours alone. As you wrote last week, there’s almost too much choice over where you might want to work.
(In past centuries, you’d have had no option. Large family, married young, lots of children – the cycle of life. But the past half century has reversed this trend and people are struggling to adjust).
Very true! I think with a lot of things, there’s been a very quick shift in culture and we’re all trying to catch up. So many people are now heading off to the other side of the world, or anywhere at all because they now can. But of course, there has to be some drawbacks to this.
I think it really makes you realise what is most important to you and especially what you need as a person – friendship/love over material things and looking good on social media. It really makes you question whether having a better job/nicer climate is really worth the added rent, pressures and being so far away from family and friends.