Auntie SparkNotes: I Don't Feel Settled At College
This year, I started university, and moved into university accommodation. Although I was keen to move away from home to gain some independence, I didn't want to be too far away and so chose a university about 2 hours from my hometown. All summer, I was very excited about moving into my dorm, starting my degree, and making new friends.
However, about a week before starting, I became very anxious about leaving home and moving in with strangers. I assumed this would pass in a week or two once I met some new people and settled down. But 4 months on, I still feel unhappy. I go home for the weekends and feel sick at the thought of returning on Sunday nights. I get on well with the people I live with, but wouldn't count any of them as a close friend. I also have a some friends in my classes but again, none that I am very close to, and I often feel quite lonely. No one else around me appears to have this problem- many seem to already have best friends and are talking about moving in together next year. I feel as though I have nothing to complain about as I know that many people live much farther from home than me, and seem to be getting on just fine. The question I want to ask is, does everyone feel like this sometimes? Is it normal to still be unsettled and unhappy after four months?
No, it isn't.
Which is not to say that you're a freakish outlier who should be driven from your dorm by a jeering crowd wielding torches and pitchforks—people, put the pitchforks down!—but rather that college is your home, and home should be a place where you're comfortable and at ease... or at the very least, a place that you don't yearn to escape as often as possible and live in dread of returning to. The fact that you feel this way about your school means that something, somewhere, has gone wrong.
In your case, what went wrong is probably this: that instead of addressing and dealing with your anxiety, you took it to school with you. Arriving at college in a cloud of fear and mistrust—instead of a state of enthusiastic excitement—is an enormous hindrance to your ability to make friends. Finding your people means putting yourself out there, and putting yourself out there is damn near impossible when you're already scared.
And as long as you let anxiety drive you, you'll continue to sabotage your best chance at feeling better. I mean, you go home every weekend because you feel lonely and disconnected... but you also feel lonely and disconnected because you go home every weekend. Life happens on campus, and if you've been absenting yourself on the regular, then it's no wonder you don't feel close to anyone.
Which is why, starting right now, you have to spend your weekends at school, not at home. Please. Do it for me. Hell, do it for you! You deserve to be engaged and connected and cared for at college—but you can't be any of these things if you're not at college. So tell your roommates that from now on, you'll be staying on campus on weekends. Read the Great Big Guide to College Socializing, and make a point of seeking out and meeting people you'd like to have as friends. And when you do feel lonely and listless, find a way to entertain yourself that doesn't involve fleeing altogether, whether it's taking a walk, hitting the gym, or holing up in your bed with a good book and some cheesy snacks.
And take note: this isn't magic, so give it some time. Social recalibration takes getting used to, and you may feel worse before you start to feel better. And of course, if you don't feel better, or if your anxiety prevents you from trying to, then it's time to take advantage of your school's mental health services and talk to a counselor. But what's important is that you learn to cope with loneliness, instead of running from it, that you seek happiness in the place you're at, and that you recognize the importance of being engaged where you are— even, and maybe even especially, when where you are isn't exactly what you'd expected.
Do you feel lonely and unsettled at school? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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