The Loneliness Dilemma

With the pandemic, students have felt more isolated and lonely. How have they been able to cope with it, and are there solutions to this problem?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Emily Lu

Humans are social creatures by nature. And now, over one year into quarantine, the world is beginning to open up again. And yet we’re still largely lacking one major aspect of our daily lives: social connection. With the results of the Stuyvesant mental health survey this past winter paired with continued isolation, it’s clear that students are struggling to find the solution to feeling detached and lonely.

The question remains: what even is loneliness, and is there a solution? Is it the physical solitude that we’ve grown accustomed to when in isolation, or perhaps an emotional void? For an anonymous sophomore, it’s both. “It's a state of mind accompanied by sadness and sometimes a feeling of yearning for social interactions,” they said in an e-mail interview. “Your mind kind of makes you overthink, and even if people are physically by you, it seems like you're alone with nowhere to go.”

Other students have shared that loneliness brings on an indescribable absence––a feeling of wanting. “It just feels like you're lacking something inside. You're not fulfilled,” junior Ashley Tian said. Similarly, Principal Seung Yu defines loneliness as an internal disconnect. “Loneliness to me is the feeling of not being connected to others, particularly to my family and closest friends,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Despite the various definitions of loneliness, it’s undeniable that the pandemic has created a void of disconnection among students. “Loneliness definitely eats me up a lot. It gets kind of unbearable sometimes, being cooped at home with only my family; going through the same routine in my house every day,” sophomore Luca Adeishvili said in an e-mail interview. He describes how he would usually hang out with friends after school during in-person learning, which would help make school more engaging, but not being able to see his friends has made this far more difficult.

Tian also feels that remote learning has not only made her feel more lonely, but has also added stress to her academic life. “Emotionally, it's been a lot more stressful on my mental well-being,” she said. “I'm not retaining any of the information I learned, so that makes me feel unprepared for what follows me during senior year because I feel like I'll be behind.”

Other students, however, have been able to find new ways to connect with their peers using virtual platforms. “Sometimes, my friends and I will go on a Zoom call to chat or watch a movie or series, an activity the pandemic helped me learn about,” the anonymous sophomore said.

Likewise, freshman Amanda Cisse establishes weekly video calls to remain in contact with her middle school friends. “I stay connected with all of my friends from my middle school by having a Zoom every Wednesday night where we play games and talk,” she said in an e-mail interview. “It has made it so that I feel just as close, or closer, to my middle school friends as I was pre-pandemic.”

For junior Vicky Liu, she has found a sense of normality with this way of communicating with friends now. “I made sure to keep in touch with my friends and call often with them to keep updated...I haven't really felt a feeling of loneliness in a while. I've just learned to adapt to communicate better online,” she said in an e-mail interview.

But students aren’t the only ones that have to adapt to pandemic loneliness. For Principal Yu, family grounds him. “I call my mother and sisters every day, or as much as I can,” Yu said. “They help ground me and even though our conversations are usually not very deep, they are touch points for a quick laugh or share out of how we're coping.”

Though both students and administrators can usually reach out to their friends and loved ones, it doesn’t always quell these complex feelings. While the school has attempted to improve social relations by hosting online events, many of which have good intentions behind them, they just aren’t a solution to the growing lack of social connection. “You can’t alleviate a person’s loneliness by simply showing them charts and videos about how loneliness affects you badly and why the pandemic is bad for mental health. It addresses an issue but in no way solves the issue being addressed––it’s an essentially performative action,” sophomore Luca Adeishvili said.

Similarly, Tian pointed out a probable reason as to why some students don’t go to events that are supposed to improve mental health: students don’t see them as effective. “I feel like they would just regurgitate the same advice, like things we already know. I don't think it's something that can really be fixed,” she said. Although she hasn’t attended the school functions, she appreciates how her guidance counselor makes a welcoming space in office hours in case she ever does want to reach out. “I thought that was really nice, and it felt a lot more personal. I think it was a really good move on his part.”

But beyond remote learning, some students have said that they still felt lonely during in-person school. “I found it hard to create new friendships and have social interaction when everyone is busy with their own things and when there is little time to interact in school,” the anonymous sophomore said.

Tian shared a similar sentiment. “Even though I had my friends, I still felt I was lacking something. It didn't have anything to do with my friends. It had something more to do with my family and how I wasn't satisfied with myself. And I wasn't the best person I could be.”

These comments allude to a larger mental health problem within Stuyvesant’s virtual and in-person walls, even before the pandemic. Though there is no easy solution, there are students and faculty members who are willing to listen. “I think it's important for students to have ways to communicate how they are feeling and to share their experiences,” Principal Yu said. “We can't run away from challenging issues and it is important that we find ways to share different perspectives. There are no easy answers but I believe through open dialogue we can make work together to help every student, staff, and adult have an enriching experience.”

Through it all, students and administrators are learning what works best for them, and what helps them get through their loneliest times. Cisse has been able to make friends through clubs, such as debate and BSL. “Joining teams and clubs is a really good way to meet people and become a tight knit community,” she explained. Cisse is a part of blended learning, where she has been able to meet new people through commuting and seeing them at school. Additionally, Cisse has also taken advantage of guidance counselor meetings. “I have been to my counselor's office hours, which was fun because it was a good space to talk about life––my guidance counselor even gave me tips on my hair!”

On the other hand, Adeishvili has stayed grounded through motivation and hope for the future. “I try and find motivation through the many online interactions with friends [...] and it gives me hope as to the future post-pandemic where I’ll be able to physically hang out with them and do so more often,” he said. Adeishvili also offers advice to teachers who want to help relieve the stresses of remote learning. “Teachers should try and allow for more discussion between peers during classes to build more relationships, because we tend to not get to know our classmates in our online classes too well. Getting to know them better may help alleviate some measure of loneliness during the school day.”

In many ways, opening up to close family and friends about our feelings can make you feel better and build even stronger bonds. “For me, combating loneliness means to challenge my thoughts and have a conversation with my friends or family about anything,” the anonymous sophomore said. “It's a challenging and strange feeling, loneliness, but it gets worse if you keep it bottled up.” Sharing experiences with close friends helped them realize that loneliness is only a temporary feeling. They also recommend taking breaks from work to prevent burnout, and partaking instead in activities such as drawing, watching shows, or listening to upbeat music.

At the end of the day, loneliness is a complex and difficult emotion to experience, especially with an isolating pandemic. But as Tian said, “We all have our ups and downs, we all feel lonely, but lonely people can come together to [feel less] lonely.” You are not alone with your emotions, and as always, you can reach out to others to talk to.