A lunch a day keeps the loneliness away

Michael Martinez

We’re in a hurry. We have to study. We have tests, assignments and deadlines. We’re studious during the week and social during the weekend. We have our whole lives ahead of us. However, the life we’re living can be a lonely one. 

Most of all students on campus reported feeling lonely within the last year. The fast-paced and high-stress environment college fosters makes it difficult to have fulfilling interactions. Despite this, the problem of loneliness should be addressed. Habitual interaction and conversation are critical in combating loneliness. 

During a busy day, lunch is an often overlooked opportunity when it comes to engagement. Throughout UT’s cafeterias, seating areas and cafes, people sit alone at tables for four. TD Simons, a dance junior, said she eats lunch alone around four times a week. “I never really think to text people,” Simons said, “I just think that they’re busy or in class. I just don’t out of habit.” One of the most convenient and consistent ways to combat loneliness is to grab lunch with a friend, colleague, or even a professor. 

“Social interactions can improve well-being while avoidance of social interaction can lead to increased anxiety and fear of isolation,” said psychology Ph.D. student Michael Mullarkey. 

It’s difficult to combat loneliness and depression because of their invisible nature. It’s hard to be certain whether a friend or colleague is suffering. However, the prevalence of mental illness isn’t necessary to reach out to others. The benefits of socializing spans across all mental states. Bonding over a meal has been shown to help self-esteem and even raise grades. Social engagement increases collaborative skills and participation, while social isolation, over extended periods of time, has long-term consequences.

Loneliness is often cited as a factor of depression which one out of six students reported affected academic performance. Currently, rates of depression are three times higher among students compared to adults. If not addressed at a young age, the risk of mental illness as an adult increases dramatically. 

Engagement with others requires you to challenge yourself with new experiences and people. When you converse with new viewpoints and beliefs, you lessen the chance of mental stagnation, a mental state that leads to stunted empathy and cognitive development. It can be scary to find the courage to engage with new classmates and colleagues. 

Mullarkey said, “Even taking small steps, like saying ‘hi’ to people when you sit down in class, can increase your confidence in reaching out.” These small acts of empathy and acknowledgment of one another can go a long way in combating loneliness and other resulting issues.

Next week, try to slow down. Invoke your inner freshman and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Grab lunch with someone new. Get to know your teacher. A conversation can be eye-opening or life-changing. Loneliness may be everywhere, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Martinez is a Plan II and government junior from Austin.