Alone Doesn’t Have to Mean Lonely

By Caitlin Farrell, MPH’23 in Global Health

This past summer I got an incredible opportunity to work at the Rural and Underserved Populations Research Center at the University of Idaho campus for the University of Washington WWAMI Medical School Program. I was so incredibly excited to travel back to my home state of Idaho and my undergraduate school, University of Idaho. However, when I got back up to Moscow and settled into my new place, I realized how incredibly alone I was.

I am an introvert and quite used to taking time alone to recharge. I do love being around people and working in groups but can find a long day draining. I have trouble fully opening up to people and have a small, close group of friends. Being placed back into Moscow, Idaho this summer was quite a shock with having many memories of my time in undergrad, my sorority, and my teammates, yet not having any of my support system there anymore.  

The first two weeks of working, to overcome my homesickness, I became hyper focused on filling my planner with work assignments, online events and lectures, and FaceTime calls with friends and family. I felt that I was drowning. I realized that I could not continue to work and live the way that I was.

I had to make some changes, figure out ways to be alone, and dive deeper into what I truly liked to do. I wanted to become the person that I always said I was too busy to be.

I began taking more time making my meals. I put on music and danced in the kitchen. I tried new recipes just for myself and have become quite proficient in roasting a chicken, making homemade wontons, and baking the perfect lasagna.

I started reading again… no, not reading more public health books, scientific journals, or news updates. I truly slowed down and read silly rom-coms, BookTok famous fantasy, and some critically acclaimed novels that I thought might not ever get off my TBR list.

I started to go for walks. After participating in sports for so long, the transition from being a college athlete to not having any physical structure has been incredibly difficult. I have struggled with a changing body and making time for going to the gym. The pressure of working out, lifting heavy, and being a gym regular was overwhelming. Taking walks after work with a snack or homemade iced tea was such a great way to relieve stress while getting moving. A bonus that I was not expecting was that I began to recognize my neighbors and chat with them. It felt nice to have a sense of place and feel a part of the community.

I began to take myself out for dates and do the things that I normally would only ever do myself. I went to the movies, to get an afternoon beer at a local brewery, and to the farmer’s market. I bought myself flower bouquets, fresh veggies, and an overpriced Sunday latte treat.

Finally, I turned off my notifications from all work-related apps on my phone and iPad after 6pm. No more emails, Teams notifications, and updates on work documents.

Now, all of this was no replacement for having my friends and family close by, but it was a great change and let me find a bit more of myself.

Graduate school is hard and can be stressful. There are classes, internships, work, thesis or capstone, and being social as well. I found myself trying to attend the events held on campus and with other grad students, but sometimes felt overwhelmed with having to be social or make conversations with new people.

My biggest advice for anyone trying to fight loneliness or homesickness is to identify the things that give you stress and the things that make you happy. Balance can be difficult to find. School tends to be time consuming and not having the same time schedule for work.

When I begin feeling lonely, I pack my schedule with more work, getting ahead on classwork, and working on my thesis. However, the cycle of not being present for myself and feeding my time off just leads to being more overwhelmed and unsatisfied.

Now, what I have chosen to do will likely not work for everyone. Trying new things and doing things that remind you of home can help feel a bit more connected to the people you love and yourself as well.

There are lots of support systems on campus, in the community, and by reaching out back home. Just remember that being alone or being physically away from family and friends doesn’t have to be a lonely experience.

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