You can live alone, work alone, and travel alone while feeling at peace with yourself. Loneliness hits differently.

My husband and I are miles away from the place we call “home.”

We moved out of state last year for a change of scenery. Along with that change came a large sacrifice: departing from our closest loved ones.

As time passes by, we realize that home isn’t just a place. It’s where your people are.

While physical distancing has lessened the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, it lends no help to the loneliness we’re also dealing with.

The loneliness epidemic emerged well before the need to practice physical distancing. Individuals have battled with loneliness for quite some time, even when things were still “normal” in the world.

Physical distancing directives have merely widened the impact, especially with the increase of communities that are ordered to shelter in place.

I’m personally feeling the effects during this shelter in place. I miss my friends, my family, and the freedom of going out to meet new people.

Feeling alone and being lonely are two totally different things. Triggered by the absence of companionship, loneliness causes a level of isolation that can damage your mental health and well-being.

As an introvert, I get my energy from being alone. I’m also a homebody who’s used to working from home. That’s why I can cope so well with this period of isolation. On the flip side, I prefer to have a balance between solitude and social connectedness.

You can live alone, work alone, and travel alone while feeling totally at peace with yourself. Loneliness, however? It hits differently.

It often makes you feel like the “odd one out” in social situations, and that feeling can lead you down an emotionally painful road.

The effects of loneliness can make it harder for you to establish connections and close relationships with others. In times when you’re most vulnerable, it may seem as if you have no safe place to land in terms of emotional support.

Feeling lonely can take effect at any stage of your life, from childhood to adulthood. Episodic periods of loneliness are quite normal. Most likely, you’ll feel the effects of it at a minimal scale.

Growing up as my mom’s only child, I experienced loneliness early on. I didn’t have siblings my age to play with, fight with, or resolve conflicts with. To an extent, this stunted my social life.

Making friends was never an issue for me, but it took me years to master the art of communication and conflict resolution. Relationships are less likely to last when there’s a lack of these two things, and I learned this the hard way.

Long-term loneliness is the danger zone you don’t want to reach, as it poses a much higher health risk.

As humans, we’re social by nature. We weren’t wired or created to live life alone. That’s why we crave connectivity when there’s a lack of it in our personal lives.

Self-isolation has its benefits. For instance, you may find it easier to focus when you work or do things alone. This is one of the cases where there’s beauty in solitude. On the other hand, it has its drawbacks like any other habit.

As an artistic person, I work best when there’s no one around. I prefer to be alone when my wheels are turning and I’m in that creative headspace. Why? Distractions can easily mess up my flow, which gets me out of my groove and causes me to procrastinate.

I can’t allow myself to work all day, or I’d be in a constant state of isolation. That’s why I block out time in my schedule to work on creative projects.

This way, I’m able to maximize my time and have a healthier work-life balance. During other times, I make sure to connect to my people.

When we spend too much time in isolation, our minds can sometimes wander down a rabbit hole of negative thinking. Don’t fall into this trap. Reaching out is crucial.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), perceived social isolation can trigger a number of different health complications. The effects could range from depression and anxiety to poor immunity.

In times of crisis, it’s best to remain level-headed and focus on what you can control. Focusing on what you can do will help you cope with your new reality.

The APA notes that extreme loneliness can have a detrimental effect on your health. As we endure this crisis, we must stay connected to others while we’re at it.

Technology makes it easier to stay in touch with people without physically being present. Family, friends, and loved ones are always just a phone call away — unless you live with them already.

If you feel that you’re out of touch with those you’re close with, now would be a great time to reconnect. Thanks to chat-based platforms like FaceTime and GroupMe, you can check on your loved ones easily from home.

It doesn’t stop there. Social media serves its purpose in more ways than one. Primarily, it’s a great tool to use to make new connections.

People all around the globe use social media for this reason. You have a better chance of establishing a connection with someone if you can relate to them in some way.

Since we’re all feeling the effects of this crisis, this could be a good starting point to find common ground.

There’s also Quarantine Chat, a new app for people who are battling loneliness as we flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Since we can’t go out and meet new people offline, why not get crafty with the way you meet them online?

Along with the internet comes the benefit of online community. There are tons of communities for pretty much every walk of life. Many are available to the public for free.

Unsure of where to start? Check for Facebook groups that align with your hobbies and interests.

Some communities host gatherings that are completely virtual, and they’re especially active now. I’ve seen it all, from virtual movie nights and mixers to online book clubs and coffee dates. And there’s just about every kind of virtual fitness class you could imagine.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. It’ll only be a matter of time before you find your tribe, even online.

Have you ever wanted to contribute to something that’s bigger than yourself? Now’s your chance to make that meaningful impact on society.

There are many ways you can pay it forward without leaving the house. Helping others can take your mind off of loneliness and shift your focus toward the greater good.

You can even help out COVID-19 researchers from home.

It’s a win-win for you and for the people.

There’s a lot that therapy can do for your mental health. For one, a professional therapist can equip you with the tools you need to cope more effectively with loneliness.

In-person therapy isn’t accessible right now, but you’re not completely out of options. Apps like Talkspace and Betterhelp have made it possible to get therapy online.

“Online therapy services can help treat symptoms of depressive disorders, including loneliness,” says Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, a licensed psychiatrist in New York City.

Although the experience might be different than what you’re used to, online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy.

“It [gives people the ability] to discuss their symptoms, create a treatment plan, and work one-on-one with a therapy provider,” Ivanov adds.

For those who have dealt with long-term loneliness for weeks, months, or years at a time, physical distancing has presented itself at an inconvenient time.

If you currently struggle with loneliness, we encourage you to take advantage of the resources out there. You truly don’t have to go at it alone.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.

If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.

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Johnaé De Felicis is a writer, wanderer, and wellness junkie from California. She covers a variety of topics that are relevant to the health and wellness space, from mental health to natural living.