Warm nights are one of my favorites. When I was in graduate school in Chicago, my body and mind would recall the feelings and sensations of what it would be like after a long day of classes and back-to-back clients from my internship. I dreaded coming back to the apartment: plopping down only to stare into space, sinking into nothingness. But, it was times like these where I knew I can drop it all — the backpack, the burden off my back, at least for the moment, and comfortably snug on my sneakers and head out.

Walking around neighborhoods in a city is one of the things I absolutely enjoy doing. “What a privilege”, I thought to myself as I walked out. As much of my identity is tied to my ‘Asian-American-ness’ and being a minority, it doesn’t exempt me from experiencing and having privilege. I am always reminded of the privilege I have of living in a relatively safe neighborhood, of being able to afford and have choices of where I’d prefer to live, and even being able to walk outside and not be (completely) filled with utmost fear. So, it is this privilege that I am thankful for in recognizing and even enjoying on countless nights in the city of Chicago. Walking gives me, not only opportunities to see my own neighbors, places, and homes around my apartment, but also the spirit or the culture in the area surrounding me. I’ve realized that I get such comfort from being able to catch glimpses of the televisions through the windows or curtains as I’m passing by these nice homes. Perhaps it’s the comfort of knowing that everyone is simply just living their lives… seemingly ‘normal’, or at least giving off that sense of normalcy. I saw glimpses of the Cubs game that night, the Nuggets vs. Wolves basketball game, Netflix shows and movies, The Voice. Perhaps it’s the fact that these glimpses are reminders that “you are not alone.”

With transitions such as: moving away from familiar people and places, planting oneself in a new culture and environment, entering a new life stage, change itself can be and feel seemingly sudden, drastic. Now that I have just moved out of Chicago and into the city of Seattle, I have found myself confronted with ways to grasp at connection, at fighting the feeling of being alone. With the specific transitions and change of close friendships, now to long-distance friendships, or even no more friendships at all… loneliness can be inevitable.

Yes, just because I’m a therapist, doesn’t mean I never feel the concept of loneliness. Yes, just because I am newly married, doesn’t mean I never feel alone or far away from what it means to feel sadness. But in all this, I was reminded of the power of connection. The feeling of an every-day goodbye kiss or word from my husband as he leaves for work, the weekly dinners a friend hosts for people to get together, hilarious animoji’s sent via iMessage, a phone call or visit to the elderly parents or grandparents in your life, the touch of their hands on top of yours assuring you that you’ll be okay.

In an NYT article, Heather Murphy described studies that showed recipients of “thank you” emails, notes or letters, actually felt more “ecstatic” than the writers expected. Ultimately, what can also be derived from these findings is that it is another piece of connection people can create and have with each other. Nowadays, with the rise of social media and technology making connections with others seamless and “easy”, you would think the sense of belonging and loneliness have diminished. In a sense, I truly believe that social media has played a huge part in keeping people connected and together. But at the same time, there can be ways that this goes awry and contributes to the epidemic of loneliness altogether.

In an email (our attempt to stay connected with each other despite years of distance), a good friend of mine wrote, “crazy interesting to see the difference in society culture between one of the poorest countries in the world (Benin) to one of the richest (Switzerland). I’ve reflected a lot about how having such a rich society makes it more difficult to build new communities and relationships because people don’t need each other like they do in developing countries.”

I stare and think: wow. What a reflection. What brings the connection pieces to the next level of relationship building? What does it mean to need each other? And why is it deemed a ‘weakness’ here in America, to admit that we do, in fact, need each other. In the midst of all our “stuff” (or lack thereof), are we making meaningful connections? We, as human beings, are created in such a way that is filled with diversity, no two people are the same. Yet instead of relishing and collaborating with the differences we bring to the table, we oftentimes only know how to isolate, fight, or oppress the other. We lose and miss the opportunity for connection, for the power of belonging.

Loneliness can contribute to physical and emotional health manifestations such as: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, increase of stress hormones, insomnia, depression, anxiety. Yet, connection and belonging may strengthen your immune system, recover from diseases faster, lower rates of depression and anxiety, increase self-esteem, openness, empathy, trust and cooperation with others. This connectedness, therefore, generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.

What a difference it makes to come out of hiding. What a difference it makes to have a safe space, whether physical or through others embodying trust and compassion. Cherish the connections and meaningful relationships that you have in your lives right now. And for those who don’t, if you are willing, take a leap of faith and reach out, search for the little (or big) ways that you can be connected and begin the journey of building safe relationships around you.

Tina Choi is a mental health therapist born and raised in NYC, now living in Seattle. "I'm an Asian-American woman who loves the arts and culture and aspire to break down barriers to knowing and understanding mental health more through writing. I'm simply a curious mind hoping to bring into the light things that may be seemingly hidden. Not to mention, I love a good old story." The original feature can be found over here. We recommend following her on Medium.