Students struggling with anxiety, loneliness and depression (and how to deal with it!)

Sunday - March 7, 2021

According to a Dutch research from Nuffic a “substantial number” of international students are struggling with anxiety, loneliness and are dissatisfied with social life because of Covid-19. This research was done between Dec and January in the Netherlands, however likely can be extrapolated to most countries seeing the similar situations.

“International students have a smaller safety net local ones”

Some 357 international students enrolled at Dutch higher education institutions responded, telling researchers about their experience during the Covid-19 pandemic:

More than half of international students said that they often feel worried, lonely or bored. More than 40% said they suffer from feelings of depression.

“This research shows that international students are being hit hard by the corona crisis,” said Nuffic director Freddy Weima.

“These students have a smaller safety net in the Netherlands than Dutch students. That makes them a vulnerable group. We know that universities and universities of applied sciences pay a lot of attention to this, and this research underlines its importance.”

The report analysed the emotional life of students – asking them how often they experienced negative emotions (i.e. anxious, bored, depressed) as well as positive emotions (i.e. hopeful, motivated, joyful). 

More than half of the respondents said they often or always felt anxious (62.0%), lonely (55.8%), bored (51.2%), while slightly less than half of the respondents often or always felt depressed (41.8%). 

Some 35.9% of the respondents felt often or always hopeful, 32.4% motivated, and 24.7% joyful. 


Nuffic’s report notes that a survey taken back in 2019 into the experiences of international students found that 44% of the respondents experienced ‘very to extremely much stress’, and 40% experienced moderate to extreme psychological problems. 

However, the 2019 report also showed that the vast majority of respondents had experienced “very to extremely much friendship and happiness”. 

For this reason the authors of the 2021 Nuffic report concluded that among international students, negative emotions have increased and positive emotions have declined during the pandemic. 

The report goes into detail about the cause of students’ concerns – respondents were asked to indicate how often they worry about various (e.g. personal, financial) circumstances.

Some 68.8% of students indicated that they worry most or all the time about their future career. Study issues (lectures, seminars, practical work, exams, etc.) and future education were also a concern. 

Researchers also analysed the social lives of students. A large majority indicated being dissatisfied with their social life from September 2020 on (67.8% is either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied), with only 14% reporting being either satisfied or very satisfied with their social life (18.2% is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied).


First of all the institutes are mostly really trying to make sure that students get the opportunity to be on campus and benefit from this, although not often possible due to current restrictions. Besides that they ensure to stay connected, even if through online sessions. Students are also finding creative solutions, for example some are starting ‘Walk and Talk’ iniitiatives, for students who want to meet new people in a responsible way.” 

“The solutions come from institutions, but also from students themselves”

Other solutions are to practice ´mindfulness´ as much as possible. This may sound like ´wishywashy´ or another popular term, but it basically breaks down to keep your mind filled with positive thoughts, letting go of what you can´t control through focusing on breathing well and not judging. This is common practice in meditation and yoga, but can also be done in various other ways. Research clearly shows that doing this and ´being in the present moment´ really helps reduce stress and anxiety.

We can recommend to check out this article or apps like Mindvalley, Headspace or Calm (amongst others) and really make this a daily practice.

Last tip from the author is to think in moments of stress, anxiety or negative thoughts about ´WAPPA´ (sounding like Spanish ´guapa´ which is beautiful :)):

  • W being for Wholeness: you are whole, dont need anything to make you happy. Happiness is inside of you
  • A stands for Appreciation: appreciate what you have, who you are and your friends, parents and simple things (e.g. nature)
  • P stands for Present: put your mind in the present moment, just breath and don´t dwell on the past or worry about the future.
  • P being for Play: have fun! Just laugh, don´t take everything too serious (nobody else does ;)) and see the irony or fun in things.
  • A stands for Authenticy: be yourself, be genuine, kind and ive in integrity and karma: if you are good to others, it will come back.

Namaste, and have a good positive day!