Research indicates that loneliness is just as harmful to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Unfortunately, I did not appreciate the significant impact of loneliness on one’s mental and physical health until after I had experienced its effects first-hand. In my first year as an undergraduate, I had difficulty transitioning into university life. Deep down I wanted to get more involved in extracurricular activities on campus; however, whenever I was about to attend an event, I would be overcome with anxiety that held me back. At the time, I had no idea why I was feeling so intimidated by social situations that would not have fazed me in the past.
Although I sought counseling, I was so busy with my academic workload and adjusting to it that I did not put much effort into my mental health issues. I continued to avoid having those awkward first conversations with other students, which provided relief in the moment, but made me feel even more anxious whenever these situations inevitably arose in the future. In addition, I began experiencing trouble concentrating on my coursework and felt an inescapable sadness that no amount of junk food could remedy. Ultimately though, I came to appreciate that my patterns of social avoidance were causing my mental and physical health to deteriorate.
After I decided to drop a class and make a greater investment in experimenting with strategies such as physical activity and mindfulness, I slowly became better equipped to improve my mental health and well-being. One of the most helpful tools for me was creating a fear hierarchy comprised of social situations, ordered from least to most intimidating. I worked on each step for a couple of weeks before moving on to the next one, and in this way was able to put myself into situations that were conducive to meeting others. I also began to put screen time limits on social media apps that were causing me to compare myself too much to others, and made more of an effort to be truly open with friends and family about how I was feeling. After making these changes, I felt much happier, more resilient, and excelled in my studies. I quickly realized that I had greatly underestimated the impact that mental health has on one’s overall life satisfaction and success.
While I still struggle at times with social anxiety and anxiety in general, I continue to learn new coping strategies and I feel much healthier overall. Nonetheless, the COVID pandemic has without a doubt, sporadically heightened my feelings of loneliness and it has taken some time to figure out how to cope. Video chatting with friends and family has helped me tremendously to replicate the face-to-face interactions that would typically happen; I feel much more connected and fulfilled after these conversations. One of my close friends also checks in on me if they have not heard from me in a while, and this has helped me to avoid socially withdrawing; something much easier to do now given our current living circumstances. Some of my other strategies for remaining socially engaged include: going for walks with my dog, streaming a movie with a friend using an app like Netflix Party, or virtual volunteering.
I know that I would not be able to get through these challenging times without my wonderful support system, and I want anyone reading this to know that I, and all of us at Cam’s Kids, are here to cheer you on!
To get some inspiration, feel that you are not alone, or gain a better understanding of mental health and anxiety, I encourage you to check out the amazing resources on this website! And if you need to get something off your chest, take advantage of your school’s counseling resources or any of the following:
Kids Help Phone: text “CAM” to 686868 or call 1-800-668-6868
Good2Talk (Post-Secondary Student Support for Ontario and Nova Scotia): call 1-866-925-5454 (Ontario) 1-833-292-3698 (Nova Scotia), or text GOOD2TALKON to 686868
Here247 – call 1-844-437-3247
Canada Suicide Prevention Service – call 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
Always remember that things will get better, no matter how bleak your situation or the current state of the world may seem. Just look at the stories on these pages for proof. :)