How To Survive Loneliness In a Big City

Waking up to a slew of sirens, you pull back the curtains to greet the brick wall of the neighbouring building. Eyes down, hands in pockets, ear buds in, you make your way to the coffee shop where you will wait in a line-out-the-door with the morning rush. Today a homeless man asks for a dollar and when you mumble that you only have plastic, he calls you a communist (uh, what?). You haven’t made it to class yet. You’re new to the city, and you don’t know anyone.

City life is a weird one, especially as a student, and yet, we flock here by the thousands to take residence in a place where we hope to be taught and eventually hired into greatness. But when you get to a big city, it can feel a little bit like being dropped off in the middle of a jungle, alone and forced to survive.

So here’s how to make fire (metaphorically).

Research

Find the necessities nearest you. If you don’t have in-suite laundry, is there a laundromat within walking distance? Are there places between you and school where you could work part-time? Can you get to a grocery store? Figure out these needs first. You don’t want to panic over the essentials.

Once those are taken care of, then find where the hot spots are. The best cafes, restaurants, book stores and so on. Find something in the area that you love. Is there a great comic shop or vintage clothing store? Find the places that settle the chaos around you and give you reasons to fall in love with the neighbourhood. They’re great spots for finding like-minded souls and creating social interaction.

If there isn’t a lot of information about your potential new ‘hood online and you’re going in blind, you can use Google Maps Street View or ask a friend who lives in your new city to check it out for you.

Shit’s about to get real. It’s going to be big and loud. People are going to seem mean and rushed.

Brace yourself, mentally

Shit’s about to get real. It’s going to be big and loud. People are going to seem mean and rushed. It’s going to be an adjustment and I’m not going to sugar coat it for you. Moving from one city to another is weird enough, but coming to a large city from a small town is going to be a huge change. Time ran an article a few years back, on how big city life can affect a ‘small town brain’.

Be ready for that. Know that it’s going to be different, more chaotic, and more sensory stressful than you’re used to. City life, for some, can be tougher on their mental health, but it’s also not impossible to adapt to. Literally millions of people do it, which means you can too — and if you’re the right kind of person for it, you may just love it.

Boldly go

Even if you don’t know what side of the counter you order a bagel on at the café down the street, be brave, suck it up and go in there. Laugh it off when you have to ask for directions to the washroom at the restaurant around the corner.

Maybe your favourite cup of coffee will turn out to be a Gibraltar, but if you remain too afraid to try to pronounce it, you’ll never know.

You’re new here and everyone was new once too. It can be challenging to push past the anxiety and try new things. Maybe your favourite cup of coffee will turn out to be a Gibraltar, but if you remain too afraid to try to pronounce it, you’ll never know. You’ve got this, girl; now order yourself a damn espresso.

Taking transit or even driving around a new city can be terrifying, but you will learn your way around, I promise. You will find yourself knowing which way is North and what train to take to the movies and which route is the fastest during rush hour. It will all come with trial and error. Until it is second nature, download transit apps or if you’re feeling crazy, ask someone. Familiarity is the enemy of fear.

Be aware, not afraid

I don’t think you’re an idiot, but I still feel like I need to say it — Playground rules apply here. Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know, don’t take candy from strangers and if the man asks you to help him look for his dog, he doesn’t have a dog.

Beware doesn’t mean “be afraid.” It means, “be aware”. Cheesy AF, but true. Be diligent but don’t be afraid. Not every one wants to screw you over, and you don’t have to worry about what’s around every corner, but someone might. If it feels sketchy, don’t do it.

You can be surrounded by people and be hit with the realization that you don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. You feel disconnected, like it’s you and them.

Still not working?

Loneliness in a crowd, it’s a thing. You can be surrounded by people and be hit with the realization that you don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. You feel disconnected, like it’s you and them.

Make an effort to get connected. You could join a club or volunteer. Fill your time with activities that will introduce you to people with common interests, but make sure that you’re also spending enough time by yourself in refection.

If you are feeling removed and isolated in a big city that you should take some time with your thoughts to reflect on why it is that you’re feeling this way.  If it feels like you’re low, because you’re still getting your footing, give it time. If you’ve felt low for a while and this experience has amplified it, there is help available.

“The most useful treatment was to rid people of what’s known as maladaptive social cognition — negative thoughts about self-worth and how other people perceive you.”

If it comes down to chronic loneliness for you, the above article suggests that you seek cognitive behavioural therapy, which is an option that has also proven helpful for people who suffer from anxiety, depression and eating disorders. The therapy is about getting to the core issues and learning new behaviours, which invite more positive thoughts. A quick search for counseling near you will turn up several clinics, if you choose to pursue this option.

After all that?

So you know your way around town and you can order any drink off any chalkboard menu at any coffee shop with confidence. If you feel confident in a city, you can consider yourself a local.

It might take some time, but you’ll get used to the noise, the bricks and dodging eye contact. You have friends and tips and tricks of your own. Pass those along, grasshopper and do your best to make the next round of hopefuls feel at home.

We are all in this craziness together.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Michelle Whittemore

Michelle Whittemore

Michelle is a freelance-writer in Vancouver, BC. She is beautiful, talented and modest.