Q: I like to spend a lot of time alone (hey, I need to study!), but my roommate thinks I'm getting too isolated. Who's right?
A: Here's what might be going on. Typically, college students become isolated for one of three reasons: anxiety, stress, or depression. Trouble dealing with an academic workload, discomfort with a new environment, struggling to find like-minded people, and trying to adjust to college life can stir up all of these feelings. But balancing a social life with academic obligations and time to yourself is important to overall mental well-being.
In the six months after her parents' divorce, 13-year-old Caroline (not her real name) gained more than 20 pounds. Feeling sad and alone, she consoled herself with food -- and lots of it. Day after day, she was binge eating.
"I remember the night my dad left, I went into the kitchen and devoured a dozen glazed doughnuts and a quart of milk," Caroline said. "Still feeling hungry (but really sad), I took a bag of chips up to my room and ate them in the dark while sitting on my bed, crying."
To figure out if you're "too isolated," ask yourself: Do you spend any time with others? Do you feel as though people just don't "get" you? Are you balancing school obligations with an exploration of the world around you? Does the thought of trying to start new friendships make you so uneasy you feel socially paralyzed?
If your answers are mostly "yes," try to force yourself to be around others. College campuses are full of clubs, associations, study groups, and activities where you might find people similar to you. If the thought of interacting with strangers is overwhelming, try for an activity where you can just observe. Simply being out and about can help elevate your mood.