Coping with online university: How to manage feelings of loneliness and stress while studying online

By Shout 85258’s Clinical Experts.


The past year has brought a range of unique challenges that have affected university

students across the UK. Filled with expectations of freshers parties, socialising and living

independently, students have instead had to put those hopes to one side and face the reality

of online classes, and for some, living at home with parents. It can be hard to make new

friends and feel connected to your fellow classmates when you can only meet over video

chat, and managing the stresses of life under lockdown while at the same time working

towards your degree can be especially challenging. Take a moment to think back over the

last 12 months or so, and reflect on and celebrate the resilience you’ve shown, despite what

the pandemic has thrown at you. You have already accomplished so much.

Here are some things you can do to manage feelings of stress or loneliness as you continue

your studies online:


If you’re feeling stressed:

Set the right conditions. Create calmness and space by slowing down and setting up the

optimal conditions for you to study. Remind yourself that big goals and the future can feel

overwhelming, that’s normal and okay.

Take some time to think about the type of conditions you thrive in:

  • Do you need a quiet place to study?
  • Would regular professional support to talk through challenges help you feel calmer?
  • Do you need to declutter your room?
  • Do you need to exercise before you begin coursework?

Remember that everyone’s ideal conditions are different, so what might work for your best

friend might not be the same for you. Be intentional about setting up the right conditions and

you’ll notice things feel less overwhelming when you start with this step. Progress.


Break it down. Big goals can feel overwhelming and hard to achieve, so start by trying to

break goals or assignments down into smaller, manageable chunks.

Think about what needs to happen today to reach that goal or complete your assignment

and then what needs to happen this week to reach the goal, this month, this year.

You can keep your focus on what needs to happen in the weeks and months ahead, but

keep your focus on working towards what you need to do today, in that moment.

If your goal is, "to attend all my online classes without missing any because of my

depression"... trying to never feel depressed again is going to be too overwhelming for

anyone. Instead, start small.

  • Can you come up with one coping strategy today that you can try like making a


  • Can you look up your local NHS or university's counselling centre and read a little

about it?

Maybe that playlist turns into being able to go on a run then exercising every morning before

class for a week.

Little by little, you are chipping away at your goal and making progress.


Ground Yourself. To counteract stress, we can use grounding techniques. Grounding

techniques are scientifically proven ways to bring your thoughts back to reality. They work

even in our most distressing moments. These coping strategies help reconnect you with the

present. They have the power to bring you out of a distressing emotion like stress or anxiety.

They help separate you from the distress of your emotional state or situation.

Here’s one of our favourite grounding techniques you can try anytime anywhere when you

feel a wave of anxiety or unwanted feelings come up:

● Take a deep breath and think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3

things you can smell, 2 things you can taste, and 1 thing you can touch. This will

bring you back to the present moment. Keep repeating this exercise until you feel

some relief.


If you’re feeling lonely:

Seek connection. As human beings, we are designed to be around other people. Try

reaching out to those you love virtually – they will welcome your contact.

Join an online community or society around a topic that interests you. If you can’t find one,

why not set up your own? You could set up a Whatsapp group chat with your classmates, or

contact your students’ union about setting up your own society. If you are feeling lonely then

it’s likely others will be too, and they will welcome you reaching out. You may need to step

outside of your comfort zone but it could lead to you making new connections and new



Go outside. Try taking a walk around your local park or to your high street. Just being

around other people has an incredible power to lift your mood and make you feel less alone.

Exercising can also boost your endorphins, and help you feel more energised and less


Offer to help others. Think about volunteering opportunities to support others. You can find

a lot of virtual volunteering opportunities online, or you could do something to help someone

in your community, like cooking for an elderly neighbour. Volunteering is a great way to meet

new people and helping others can make you feel more connected.

Celebrate the small wins. If you are feeling isolated but also worried about stepping out of

your comfort zone, ask yourself: what outcome would you like? What’s a small change you

can make today to help this situation so it feels more manageable? Send that one email, or

send that one message, and then pat yourself on the back for these small wins.


It is key to take time to pause and reward yourself for all the resilience you’ve shown up to

this point. Take time to stop, reflect, and check in. Show gratitude to yourself and keep

monitoring your progress. Repeat the strategies outlined here if you ever feel off track or


If you need any support, you can text SHOUT to 85258 for free, at any time of day or

night. A trained Shout volunteer will message you back and forth and listen to what’s

worrying you. Visit for more information.


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