a student studying alone
For a lot of students studying from home has been a very lonely experience. Image: Freepik.
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Many students opted to stay at home due to online learning, but side effects include stress and loneliness

Due to COVID-19 and online learning, many University of Ottawa students decided to learn from home instead of living in Ottawa. However, while students are saving money on rent and other necessities, it seems as though the costly feelings of loneliness are amplified for many. 

The effects of online schooling, combined with a global pandemic, has led many students to struggle mentally and emotionally. 

Many people do not appreciate or realize how much their lives depend on social relationships with other people. These relationships are often a hallmark of their university experiences. 

“We kind of take it for granted,” said Judith Friedland, a professor emerita in the department of occupational science and occupational therapy at the University of Toronto.

Students in their first and final years of university can be more susceptible to amplified feelings of anxiety, stress and loneliness because they are going through important life changing events, such as entering university or leaving. 

Feelings of loneliness 

“Living at home and the effects of the pandemic has led to a constant never-ending state of anxiousness, fear, gloominess, exhaustion, loneliness, and numbness,” said Kristen Kim-Soo, a second-year health science student at the U of O in an email to the Fulcrum. 

While Kim-Soo was originally eager about the semester starting as it would give her something to do during her days, her eagerness quickly faded as the workload piled on. 

“These feelings, along with the lack of support and understanding from others has really made this year extremely difficult,” she said.

Fjolla Berbatovci, a fifth-year biomedical sciences student at the U of O opted to stay home in Toronto to finish off her final year. However, her schoolwork has required her to stay home even more and not see her friends. 

“Before, I could merge studying with socializing through study groups, or tend to my jobs or volunteer work to stay social and productive which I can no longer do,” said Berbatovci in an email. 

Claire Park, a second-year honours history student at the U of O from Fredericton, N.B. expressed similar sentiments as well. 

“I didn’t realize how much of a social person I was despite being an introvert before the pandemic started,” they said in an email. 

Park no longer speaks to many of their friends from high school, but the friends they made at the U of O are too busy with school work to interact virtually. 

“I took all the social interactions big and small that I had with friends, fellow students, and professors at university for granted,” said Park. 

Eneke Van Marle, a first-year student in the ophthalmic medical technology program at the U of O, expressed a similar situation of not being able to even Facetime her best friends because they are all so busy. 

Dealing with loneliness

Social support is important when it comes to combating feelings of depression and overall quality of life, with emotional support being one of those forms. 

Emotional support is where an individual can count on others should the need arise. 

“It’s really, really important,” said Friedland.

One way Friedland recommends for facilitating relationships within the classroom setting is having groups projects and group breakout sessions, where students can meet other individuals in their classes. 

Another way is reconnecting with former friends and family members you have not spoken to in a while. In addition to this, interacting with friends virtually over Zoom, texting and calling are all ways to feel more connected and less alone. 

Friedland also recommended following a schedule or routine.

“Continue to do things that you feel gives you a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Berbatovci has been dealing with her loneliness by keeping connected online with her friends and staying invested in their lives virtually.

However, she feels as though long distance friendships and relationships suffer regardless. 

“It’s hard to find completely uninterrupted time to give to those relationships.” 

Kim-Soo has been trying to stay connected with friends virtually but ultimately finds it unsatisfying and difficult. 

“The significant emotional and social differences between calling a friend and having an in-person conversation can make communication a little more difficult for me,” she said. 

“I also have tried to turn to hobbies to encourage me to work through my feelings of loneliness in a healthy and positive way, but, to be honest, the lack of motivation and the overall negative feelings completely overwhelm me, leading me to do absolutely nothing.”

For Van Marle, leaning on her parents for emotional support and talking to her friends who are also struggling in university helps the most.

“Reminding myself that I’m not the only one who is struggling during this really helps,” she said in an email.

Park has made friends in the U.K. whom they play video games with, as well as having virtual parties, hanging out on Discord and creating a Minecraft server with friends. Park has also picked up knitting and crocheting, as well as spending more time with their mother. 

“My mom’s pretty cool — she’s a good cure for loneliness.” 

Many individuals are feeling the same way as others right now: stressed with feelings of immense loneliness. By reaching out to others and offering emotional support and contact, individuals are able to both feel better and make others feel better.

“Continuing to make contacts and build some new contacts or reinvigorate old contacts, there are all kinds of things that can make you feel better and feel more connected and help others to be more connected,” said Friedland.