Why it’s important to combat loneliness
Loneliness has recently been named as one of the largest looming health crises of modern time alongside physical diseases such as obesity and CVD. Up until now loneliness has been viewed as somewhat of a destination resulting from a lifestyle of isolation from others. It’s only now that we know that loneliness can have a huge impact on physical and mental wellbeing. The impacts of prolonged loneliness can lead to:
• Increased risk of depression
• Correlation to heart disease
• Impaired cognitive function (being able to process)
• Higher stress & blood pressure
• Weakened immune system
• Higher likelihood of premature death
How to deal with loneliness
It’s important to understand that loneliness is very common especially when moving to study in a big city like London. Although the initial period can be daunting, you’ll soon start to make friends and life-long connections. That said, it’s vital that you start to address any persistent feelings of loneliness and take proactive action against them. This will prevent the situation from potentially spiralling and negatively impacting your health.
It’s much easier to make friends with people who are in a similar situation to you. If you have come as part of a group or to join a course, make the most of socialising with them. This can be people on your Erasmus scheme, language course or University college.
Make friends by networking with people within the organisation that you are attending. At a college or university, there may be union or student group that you can join. Investigate all possible options for meeting new people. There will be quiz nights you can go to, sports teams you might want to join and societies that might interest you.
If you do get invited to an event, a night out or a meal, say yes. Even if your first instinct is to turn it down – say yes. Take every opportunity you can to meet people. You never know where your new friends may turn up. Even if you don’t end up friends with the person who invited you, you might meet someone else there who you get on with. London offers limitless opportunities for recreational activities so why not suggest some of our personal favourites.
If there doesn’t seem to be a ready-made group for you, then the website Meetup.com
is a great next step. This site puts like-minded people together, enabling them to meet up with others who live in the same area. It lets you meet people who are interested in the same hobbies and activities as you. It is available in most major towns and cities and is really popular, so you’re bound to find others who share the same passion as you.
Keep on making an effort no matter how hard it may seem. If there’s a language barrier and cultural differences, it will be tough but you can do it. Push yourself and always try new things. When you least expect it, there will be moments where you notice your progress. You will have a fantastic conversation with someone and think: ‘Yes, I’m doing this!’
Try and get to know the culture by trying new foods. Eating out provides an excuse to socialise too. If you notice colleagues organising social events, try to get to know them this way. Make sure your social circle includes people from the city, as well as people from your own country
“I was lucky to get a job not long after moving and tried to socialise with my colleagues as much as possible. It was the best way to get to know the culture and language and I made long-term friends this way too.”
Nicolas, who lives and works in the UK and made the move over 5 years ago.
When you have a few friends, try opening up to them a bit. This simple act strengthens your friendship and helps breaks down barriers. Before long you’ll have friends that you feel closer to and who may even end up being friends for life.
Get A Hobby
If small talk isn’t really your thing, try out a new sport, activity or join a club that offers a favourite hobby of yours.
If you’re doing something you love, the chances are friendships will be easier to make. Relationships will flourish without you even noticing. You could also take a class in something that interests you and meet like-minded people that way.
You could get involved with your local community. You could volunteer for a local charity, join a church, even get involved in local politics if there are issues you feel strongly about. Alternatively, join a gym or hire a personal trainer.
Being lonely - what to do
There are also lots of Facebook groups for socialising in specific locations. This makes it easier to meet up with people to practise your language skills, or simply find other people in your situation.
Hannah, who has lived and works in Spain for nearly two years, has this advice:
"There are loads of Facebook groups for international groups to get together and connect - these are really helpful when you're new to a country.'
Just because you don’t have a large group of friends or someone to go out with, you could go out on your own. Depending on the environment, a busy pub or park for example, people are more likely to chat to you and involve you in their activities if you’re on your own too.
Above all, just go for it and don’t hold back. It’s frightening to put yourself in these social situations in a foreign country, but you’ll be glad of it when you start to feel at home.
Change your living circumstances
If you’re in a new city for a few months, then changing where you live might not seem worth it. Longer than this and it would be a great idea to move into a house-share. Then you’ll have a ready-made group of friends, who can introduce you to the area and other people.
You may even need to change the way you do things on a day to day basis, and act as a tourist to get to know the city. Build a cultural list of the city as if you’re on holiday and get a mental map of where the main attractions are in the city.
Work out how to get around. Which tube, bus or cycle routes are the best? What’s the weather going to be like? Do you have suitable clothing? Locals may change their habits too, retreating indoors to socialise. The more comfortable you feel in the city, the more confident you’ll feel, and the more open and welcoming you’ll seem.
Get to know people the old-fashioned way by going and introducing yourself to your neighbours. They’re likely to be helpful with local knowledge. You’ll always know there’s a friendly face nearby. You could even use Twitter local search to connect with people and organisations near you. This will help you to understand and learn more about local customs.
If you’re in London to study then consider your choice of accommodation as this is a very easy way of meeting new people. Although it may seem comfortable to opt for a single studio or apartment, consider a multi-person house share. This will provide easy opportunities for activities like cooking, socialising and expanding your social circle. At The University of London we have a fantastic selection of both catered and self-catered accommodation options for first year students new to London
Look after yourself
Don’t forget to look after yourself too. All this socialising can be exhausting! Nurture yourself and do something you love.
Have a long bath, cook an amazing meal or put on a familiar TV series and snuggle up at home. Give yourself a break. Don’t feel guilty for having a rest and just staying in sometimes If you don’t want to stay inside, then go for a leisurely stroll..
It’s also really important to keep in touch with people back home. With Skype, FaceTime, Weibo, Whatsapp, Viber there’s no excuse either. Calls and emails to friends and family will help you keep upbeat and put your experience into perspective.
If it helps, you could keep a journal of all your experiences and some of your negative (and positive!) thoughts and feelings. It will also make sure you get a good sense of all your achievements and ensure you don’t lose sight of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
So, if you find yourself at the start of your foreign adventure and not loving it don’t panic. There are lots of things you can do to combat loneliness as well as looking after yourself too. What are you waiting for? Get out there and make that city yours!