I find it funny how loneliness is such a major contributor to my anxiety, yet, I haven’t really made a post about it. I have talked about it a bit but haven’t given it its own blog post. So, let’s dive deeper into loneliness while you are in grad school, especially in a doctorate program.
Loneliness, to me, is one of the worst feelings that I get. When I feel lonely, things just appear off to me. Colors seem to change and get duller, happiness tends to go away, and an overall sense of sadness kicks in. It is very close to what my depression felt like but not nearly as bad. It is still extremely uncomforting. I used to talk to my therapist all of the time about how lonely I felt, even when I was around a ton of friends. I felt isolated from the world and there wasn’t much I could do to prevent this feeling. My therapist would always reassure me and tell me that this is a common occurrence among grad students. I wanted to know why and I eventually found out.
One obvious reason you will feel lonely is because you will be by yourself quite often. You will be in the lab by yourself, writing by yourself, and possibly even going home to be by yourself. I know many grad students that live alone so they often really feel lonely. Another reason you will experience loneliness is because the project that you are working on is not well known. Maybe it is, but more than likely people will not know what you are doing or why you are doing this. It is hard to talk about it with people because they just won’t understand what you are doing and don’t really relate to the very different struggles that grad students face. I find it extremely isolating to bring up grad school with my family because they just don’t know what questions to ask or give advice, since they have not been in my position before.
There is hope! You don’t have to feel lonely if you learn to love the time you spend by yourself. I tell myself all of the time that i might be alone, but I am not lonely. I have to truly believe it though and I have gotten to the point where I definitely am believing it. Being alone can be extremely comforting if you look at it as a positive experience. Next time you are alone, doing experiments or just in your office, say out loud (yes out loud), “Sweet, I am alone. That means I won’t have distractions and will get my work done” or “Being alone is awesome because I don’t have to deal with nasty people”. Of course you can come up with whatever you want but make sure it is positive. I often say “Great, I am alone. Now I can watch a movie without being interrupted”. I watch movies every other Tuesday, while in the lab. If someone else was here, I couldn’t enjoy that time.
Make friends with other grad students. I know this is a bit of a difficult one but you just need to do it. other grad students will know exactly what you are going through. They often feel the same way and a friend will help you feel less lonely. It will also help them feel less lonely. I have made several grad school friends and they all have moments of loneliness. I get texts from them all of the time when they are alone, just reaching out to feel less lonely. It is comforting to know you have someone to talk to.
Use the time that you have by yourself to mediate and find inner peace. Being alone is a great time to just “be”. Be in the moment, be in solitude, and really dig deep into who you are. You can find out a ton about yourself that you didn’t even know. This advice is scary because often people what to distract themselves from themselves. This will lead to problems later on. Meditation can be a great experience to reduce loneliness because you won’t be alone, you’ll be with the best person in your life, yourself. I have used meditation to figure out underlying issues in my life and am a better person for it.
I hope you don’t experience loneliness while you’re in grad school, but if you do, I hope you find this helpful. Grad school is long but it can be fun. You just need to put in some work and you can create an awesome experience for yourself.