As an only child, I have always felt more lonely than most, especially surrounded by friends and family with siblings. Despite that, when I first went to a public school, I made friends for what felt like the first time, and that loneliness subsided.
Finally, college came around, and I was surrounded even more by people my age. Along with that, I was around people who held the same opinions as I did, which is often a challenge in a smaller, more conservative town. The loneliness I felt being an only child faded as I embraced my newfound independence and made new friends.
On March 13, all Boise State students got an email announcing the university’s decision to move to entirely remote learning for the rest of the semester. The following week, all on-campus residents were required to move out.
I saw it coming, of course. There were headlines every day of nearby states seeing more and more infections and other countries struggling to tame the virus. I knew it was only a matter of time, especially as other colleges made the same decision.
This really threw a wrench into my life and the lives of pretty much everyone worldwide. I had made close friends that I depended on, and who depended on me, and I began to find myself in ways I had not before. I struggled with difficult roommates, dyed my hair many times and altogether had a great experience being so independent — but not lonely.
I loved being in charge of myself, fully autonomous and also being close to friends on campus. When I did need mom and dad, they were not too far either. I’d fallen into a perfect routine and I’d fallen in love with the city of Boise. But now, I had to leave.
It’s kind of embarrassing how irrationally I reacted when the initial email was sent out. I began packing immediately as if I was to be evicted within the hour. It didn’t help that I was alone in the dorm and my parents were at a social event, so I felt very alone once again.
I moved out within a few days and fell into a new routine: wake up at 11 a.m., call into my classes, work, walk for two hours and repeat.
The loneliness that came from isolation and the stay-at-home order was worse than ever before because I was home all the time. My only face-to-face interactions were with my parents and that did not compare to Disney movie-nights with my friends and coffee-dates with my roommates.
A study led by epidemiologist Nicole Valtorta Ph.D. in 2016 linked loneliness to higher levels of both mental and physical harm.
“Lacking encouragement from family or friends, those who are lonely may slide into unhealthy habits,” Valtorta wrote. “In addition, loneliness has been found to raise levels of stress, impede sleep and, in turn, harm the body. Loneliness can also augment depression or anxiety.”
My sleep schedule has also taken a big hit. I went from sleeping from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. to now falling asleep at 3 a.m. and eventually waking up around 11 a.m. Social media replaced my need for social interactions and I often stay in my room until the afternoon talking to my friends online and liking everyone’s tweets.
I also grew dependent on my devices. Scrolling on TikTok and Twitter, watching and re-watching Parks and Rec, playing Minecraft and The Sims 4 for hours at a time was the new normal.
My screen time report, a feature on Apple products that measures how long you’re on your devices every day, sky-rocketed and it is still much higher than it has ever been. A good portion of that screen time is dedicated to my summer classes and work, but with all of that being online, it still strained me.
Thankfully, several months into my isolation I’ve been able to replace some of my unhealthy habits with reading and sitting outside with my dog. Still, navigating a life changed so drastically by COVID-19 has been a struggle I didn’t know I would face in my first two years of college.