The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

The College Conundrum: Feeling Lonely & Isolated on a Campus Full of People

college students walking

Simple Steps to Strengthen Your Support System and Safe Guard Your Recovery

Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars? Objects that are actually close appear clearly but look to be quite far away. If you are feeling socially isolated and alone, you may feel the same way about the people in your life: they are physically close but seem to be just distant enough that you can’t reach out to them. Maybe you are struggling to find the right group of friends at school and are feeling like everyone else has bonded with others to form tight-knit groups that are hard to penetrate. Or maybe you have been struggling and thus avoiding some of those people that are close to you. Either way, when you are feeling alone, it is hard to fight the eating disorder thoughts and urges that might creep in and try to keep you company.

Attending college is a unique experience in that there are so many people with similar interests, who are usually similarly aged, living and/or studying together in one spot. If you haven’t found the right group of people, keep looking, as they are likely somewhere on campus just waiting to welcome you into their lives. If you have been isolating, now is the time to commit to getting up and pushing yourself to reconnect with others, even if that feels really scary.

Be true to yourself. If the idea of going to a loud fraternity party sounds unappealing to you, chances are good that you aren’t going to meet your ideal friend at one. Take some time and think about what you would really like to do that might bring you pleasure. Would you rather spend a quiet evening with a small group of people or enjoy the outdoors with a hiking club? Would you enjoy a student service organization that hosts weekly charity events? Whatever your interest is, there are bound to be others on campus who share it. Contact your Student Affairs office to find a list of all of the student organizations on campus. If you see any that intrigue you, contact the president and find out meeting details and upcoming events. Peruse the school newspaper for lectures, concerts, theater events or student activities that seem interesting and challenge yourself to go to at least one.

If there is a person in your class that seems like someone you might like to get to know better, try approaching him/her.  Depending on how comfortable you are with speaking to new people, you might want to start with a simple greeting. A different time, you might want to ask them a question about the homework assignment to get a conversation started. Progress from there to asking them to study together, and if you seem to get along well, invite them to something fun that is not related to your class.  If it is hard or stressful for you to eat your meals with others for the time being, invite them to activities that are before or after meals so that you can enjoy your time together. On the other hand, if you do better eating around other people, try to schedule activities that include meals or snacks.

Important Tip: It might help to prepare yourself for some level
of rejection during the process of making new friends and
establishing social connections on campus. Not every person
you reach out to will respond positively or take you up
on the offer to hang out. That’s TOTALLY NORMAL and
does not mean you should stop reaching out.
Try not to
take it personally, and remember that they may be struggling
in their own way with social anxiety, health problems or school
and
family stressors.

If you cannot seem to find the right group of people on campus, try looking to the general community in your area. Pick up a local paper and look for events or activities that are open to the public. You might find that there are more people who have similar interests off-campus, and this is a great way to connect with them.

If you continue to struggle to connect with others, talk with your therapist about joining a therapy group. Groups can be a great way to talk about your experience with others who are experiencing similar types of situations. Here at the Center, we host an open Support Group every Wednesday night from 7:00-8:30 PM.  Therapy and Support groups are not meant to replace social relationships but can be a great place for sharing motivation and practicing interpersonal interaction.

When you are trying to heal from an eating disorder, the process can sometimes feel so draining and exhausting it can be tempting to give in to your urges.  Feeling alone on a campus full of people can make it even more difficult, so it’s important to accept that there is power in numbers.  It may take some courage and effort to reach out initially and try some of the tips listed above, but the payoff is worth it.  Once you welcome people into your daily life that you can turn to for support, even if it is just to distract you for awhile, you will have the extra strength to stay focused on recovery and you might even have a little fun in the process.

You can find more information about eating disorders and treatment and support options at www.eatingdisorder.org

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD. , CED Therapist & College Liaison
Originally published on 9/26/11

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