What is loneliness?
is a common part of transitioning and adjusting to college life. Loneliness isn’t
limited to big transitions or disruptions, and certainly not just freshman
Loneliness is a state of feeling isolated, empty, or withdrawn from connection with others. Loneliness is subjective:
virtually anyone can feel lonely, and you don’t have to literally be by
yourself to feel lonely, either. You could be in the middle of the crowd, or in
a serious relationship, and still experience loneliness in either situation.
lonely? Almost everyone does from time to time. But it’s something that, in
order to be a healthy, successful Rice student, you need to be able to identify
and constructively cope with so that it doesn’t bog you down or negatively
impact your quality of life. Check out the rest of this page for more resources and information.
Solitude vs. loneliness
The big difference
between loneliness and solitude is whether or not you feel lonely. While loneliness
is marked by feelings of isolation, solitude is a state of being alone without
feeling isolated or withdrawn. In fact, solitude can help someone “recharge”
from overstimulation, and help develop one’s self-awareness.
Some of the common causes of loneliness include:
- Loss of a significant relationship (i.e.
breakup, loss of significant friendship and/or social circle)
- Separation from familiar people and places
(changing jobs, moving to a new geographical location)
- Feeling like you don’t belong
- Low self esteem (afraid of being rejected, feel
unworthy of having lots of friends, etc.)
- Lack of social skills (don’t know how to
approach or contact others socially)
- Social phobia (irrational
fear of being judged or criticized by others if they engage in social
- Other mental health disorder (i.e., depression,
- Pessimism/burn out (jaded from a series of prior
negative/discouraging social experiences)
- Unrealistic expectations (setting unrealistic
expectations for involvement of a friendship which the other person cannot
reach or maintain, such as regular time together, to share their lives in a big
way, to often accommodate them)
Note: All of these behaviors are self-defeating
because, while they may provide immediate emotional relief, they tend to
confirm the lonely person's irrational self-beliefs about not being worthy of
others' friendship or companionship. (not your words)
- Feeling depressed, anxious, and/or angry.
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach
pain, and reduced self-energy
- Overly self-critical and self-absorbed in
- Engage in defensive behaviors that perpetuate
feelings of loneliness (i.e. withdrawing from existing social contacts for fear
of rejection, avoiding social engagement for security)
- Overactivity (i.e. immersion in constant campus
activities, working long hours to avoid painful feelings of loneliness )
- Overindulgence in food, alcohol, and/or
- Exhibiting overly possessive behavior.
Coping with loneliness
- Find new ways to meet people – explore new ways to meet and connect with
people. Rice offers a variety of ways to connect with new people, from getting
involved in clubs, sports teams, college activities, student government, to
study groups and classes.
- Be patient – developing solid friendships takes time.
Be open to the possibility of friendships – you may be surprised by who you
- Don’t expect or rely on an intimate
relationship to get you out of a “loneliness” rut –an intimate relationship should not be a
way of avoiding or losing friendships, and the other person should not be
considered a way to resolve your loneliness problem, because it may only be
- Get involved – get outside of your college, find new
ways to meet people, join sports or clubs that you like, and explore activities
you’ve never tried before. (link to
“making friends at Rice” page)
- Take care of yourself – stick to healthy habits in other areas of
your life to ensure that other aspects of your wellbeing are healthy, such as
getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night, exercising regularly, and eating
- Find fun, creative things to do by
yourself – get to know
yourself better. There a plenty of activities that can help you develop your
internal self, from writing, reading, exercising, watching a movie, painting,
creating something, constructing something, decorating, etc. Consider taking
time to develop or hone a skill or technique, from cooking to a foreign
1) I think I’m experiencing severe loneliness, but I don’t feel comfortable talking with a counselor.
What should I do?
if you think that you can manage the symptoms on your own, it never hurts to
seek help early for more support, advice, and tips on coping with what you’re
experiencing. Consider talking with someone you trust, like a close friend,
member of the college personnel team, or RHA, about any issues you’re
struggling with. If you’re exhibiting some of the symptoms of homesickness or
loneliness, consider the intensity, duration, and frequency of the symptoms
before you write off going to a counselor. If any or all of these factors are
significant, then you should consider talking with someone from the CounselingCenter to figure out better ways to address it.
2) I’m experiencing some of the signs and
symptoms of loneliness, but not enough that I feel I need to
seek professional help. What should I do?
you’re not ready or comfortable talking with someone from the Counseling Center,
consider talking with someone you trust, such as a close friend, college
master, RA, RHA, or faculty mentor. They may be able to help guide you to
you’re afraid that going to the Counseling Center implies that you’re “weak,”
or “crazy,” feel reassured that this an incorrect perception. In fact, the
majority of people who use the Counseling Center have very typical college
concerns which have become burdensome. Also, seeking counseling is actually
seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.
3) How do I tell my friends about my loneliness?
and how you tell your friends about your depression is completely up to you.
However, make sure you know the parameters of the information you choose to
divulge before having the conversation, whether that concerns addressing your
symptoms, struggles, and/or treatment, etc. Consider asking a close friend to
check in with you regularly about how you’re doing with managing your
4) I think one of my friends is experiencing
severe loneliness, what should I do now?
If your friend is in immediate danger or having an urgent health crisis,
don’t hesitate to call RUPD at 713-348-6000.
a conversation with a friend about your concerns can be hard. For tips on ways
to approach the conversation, check out the “Get Help for a friend” page. If
you’re still unsure about how to have an effective conversation, consider
contacting the Counseling Center. A staff member can help you figure out better
ways to talk with your friend based on your specific situation. If you’re
uncomfortable speaking with someone from the Counseling Center, start with a
trusted mentor or adult in your life, such as a member of the college personnel
5) How do I deal with my loneliness
in my everyday life?
To get help or talk to someone, contact the Counseling Center. For
more suggestions for ways to cope with homesickness/lonelliness, see our“Depression” page. Please keep in mind that these are only
suggestions, and are not a substitute for professional help or medical advice.
On the other hand, if you’ve tried these suggestions for a period of time and
they don’t seem to be alleviating your symptoms, consider talking with a
counselor from the Counseling Center to figure out better ways to address your
issues. See the Get Help page for more contact information.
“The Dangers of Loneliness.” 12 Sept 2007. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/the-dangers-loneliness
“Why Loneliness is Hazardous to Your Health.”
Loneliness.” Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201105/solitude-vs-loneliness/what-is-solitude
“The Basics of
Loneliness.” Psychology Today.
Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. “The Roots of Loneliness.” http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/the-roots-of-loneliness/
A., PhD, Walton, Edward, MD, and Council on School Health. “Preventing and
Treating Homesickness.” PubMed. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/192.long