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Combatting dorm loneliness: be brave, look forward, explore

How to make residence life less miserable amid lacking connections
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ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY
ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY

As the world approaches a year of pandemic restrictions on dormitory residency and gatherings, there is no doubt that many U of T residents have experienced an unprecedented degree of dorm loneliness. And with seemingly no end in sight, students are looking to countless online resources in hopes of reducing the solitude they feel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout articles and advisory resources, students time after time are told the same blasé ‘keep in touch with family’ narrative. This advice, although helpful, is overdone and not necessarily attainable for many students who already have busy schedules and are in different time zones from their family and friends. So the question still remains: what can dorming students do to relieve this vexing issue?

While physical distancing is a vital method of limiting the spread of COVID-19, it can sometimes come with social and emotional costs. Dorm loneliness is a very important and valid variant of this mental health strain that can easily heighten and segue into other mental disorders for students. 

With many students living on campus and unable to interact with other people, it is more important than ever to explore the little things that can make every day seem more sated. 

Be bold, be brave

Students across all faculties have taken advantage of social media and messaging platforms to create group chats with peers in the same classes. Although this is inherently very beneficial, students share a common hesitancy with messaging since these are often very large chats. Others have simply given up on making an effort to interact with others entirely because of how unattainable interaction has become. 

Sending a simple message reading, “Hey, does anyone live in or around Woodsworth? We could go on a nice, physically-distanced walk” could be the outset of a prosperous friendship. It is important to keep in mind that everyone has felt or is feeling similarly, and it only takes one person’s response to resolve perpetual loneliness. 

Moreover, your body will thank you for the risk-taking with a dopamine boost, courtesy of your mesolimbic reward system. 

Have things to look forward to

Although many belittle the adversity that pandemic students endure, arguing that online education is easier, more flexible, and more convenient, the lack of structure or variance in students’ days has detrimental impacts on their mental states. Thus, it is important to take care of oneself.

So, allot one hour next Saturday to give yourself a makeshift spa treatment. Or, after you finish that huge assignment, order in from your favourite restaurant. Put it on your calendar!

Explore new hobbies

Many can attest to experimenting with new hobbies during lockdown. I, for one, took up crocheting to keep my mind busy during long periods of solitude. Not only did it relieve anxiety, but my practice with such intricate and punctilious work has improved other aspects of my life. 

Undertaking simple, undemanding activities such as crocheting is a lossless investment as the materials are cheap and the technique is easy to grasp. The confidence one garners from learning a new skill is also a big plus. 

Make sure to keep up with your workout routine

Whatever working out may look like for you, stick with it! The dopamine boost is absolutely worth it. You can find a myriad of dorm-appropriate, no-equipment workouts on YouTube and online blogs.

Beyond the general health benefits, the increase in serotonin and dopamine will significantly decrease the symptoms of loneliness and those of other mental health disorders. 

Make sure to take advantage of U of T’s resources

U of T has a lot of unique resources and programs to connect students. Although online friendships do not have the same breadth as their in-person counterparts, they are valuable assets and great first steps for students who are encountering chronic loneliness. 

From Student Life’s Access & Inclusion Peer Programs to Sidney Smith Commons’ Recognized Study Groups, to the 1,000 different clubs and student-run organizations across U of T’s three campuses, there is an activity for everyone and anyone to find an online friend with similar interests.