There is a distinct difference between being alone and being lonely.  It is not uncommon for an entrepreneur to experience feelings of loneliness, which is a mental state of mind.  In fact, being a successful entrepreneur often brings about circumstances of being alone which can cause you to feel lonely. There is some truth to the old adage "It's lonely at the top."

Take into account that  many entrepreneurs think and behave differently than other people which can cause them to be alone. You may find that being an entrepreneur means taking risks, pushing the envelope or even appearing aggressive which most people would not understand; thus, causing  you to be alone. Then you have the long work hours that start well before sunup and ends well after sundown. That schedule is not an ideal situation for socializing, so you may find yourself not getting invited to parties or asked to hang out because people begin to believe that you simply too busy. Again, this can cause you to be alone.

Now, being alone is not the same as lonely, but it certainly can lead to feelings of loneliness. Not to belabor the point, but when you are unable to talk to anyone about what you are experiencing as an entrepreneur, this can cause a feeling of loneliness. And, if you have a mental health challenge layered on top of all this, feelings of loneliness are compounded. Feeling lonely can be a symptom or it may be a trigger for mental illness.

Our society rewards and relishes relationships and social circles, especially, with outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. People measure their worth by how many friends, followers or contacts that they have in their social circle. As a small business owner with a mental health challenge, I can admit that I often feel isolated and alone, which tips over into loneliness if I'm not careful. What I have come to understand is that some of this is brought on by my bouts of depression or the ups and downs of a mood disorder.

So it's important to be able to distinguish where the feelings of loneliness are derived and to put things into perspective. You can't deal with feelings of loneliness until you know why you are lonely and that is half the battle. What makes loneliness difficult to get a handle on is that it's difficult to admit that you are lonely because it suggests that something is wrong with you personally. Professionals will suffer in silence and not tell anyone how they feel or even seek help.

What is important to know is that feelings of loneliness can impact your physical health as well as your mental health. According to Hara Marano in Psychology Today, evidence has been growing that when our need for social relationships is not met, we fall apart mentally and even physically. There are effects on the brain and on the body. Some effects work subtly, through the exposure of multiple body systems to excess amounts of stress hormones. Yet the effects are distinct enough to be measured over time, so that unmet social needs take a serious toll on health, eroding our arteries, creating high blood pressure, and even undermining learning and memory.

If you notice that you are feeling lonely for any period of time, you must consider it as a serious problem that needs addressing.  According to Everyday Health, there's nothing unusual about feeling lonely. "It's perfectly common for people to experience loneliness when their social networks are changing, like going off to college or moving to a new city," says Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. The death of a loved one or marital discord can also trigger feelings of isolation.

But there's a difference between temporary "state" and chronic "trait" loneliness. If you realize that you are having chronic trait loneliness, I highly recommend that you seek help through a therapist or psychiatrist. There may be more going on under the surface than what you realize. If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness that you want to do something about, here are four things that you can do to combat loneliness:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

This can be a difficult thing to do when there is a stigma associated with loneliness. It is important to realize that you can have many friends and family around you, while still feeling lonely. If you recognize that you are lonely even with a room filled with people, then there may be a mental health issue that can be treated. You don't have to suffer unnecessarily. Keep in mind the first step to mental wellness is acknowledging whatever you are experiencing.

2. Seek opportunities to be alone

Don't dread the thought of being alone.  When you encounter a situation that will cause you to be alone don't approach it with a doom and gloom attitude. See that time as being a gift to yourself. Allow that time to be a "me" time; wherein, you can get to know yourself better and take care of yourself.  Welcome that time alone and find peace within the peace.  Try taking a short trip or even an extended vacation somewhere alone. It will totally open your eyes to the benefits of being by yourself at times. In fact, if you learn to enjoy yourself by yourself, you will attract people and you will find that you aren't alone after all. Learning how to be by yourself takes practice, so seek opportunities to be alone.

3. Journal

Start the practice of journaling. I write consistently about my thoughts and feelings in a journal. I allow myself to be completely honest about what is going on in my life. I explore areas that I would never discuss with even a therapist let alone friends. It's refreshing based on the sense of release that I feel. I actually have different journals, and the one that I most enjoy is my diary; whereby, I am speaking to my great grandchildren. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could read about our ancestors from their very own words and thoughts? Well, this is something that I'm giving to my future generation. How can you be lonely when you are writing to people who you are connecting with in the future? I explain concepts and the way of life during this time period which keeps me engaged and entertained. Also, journaling allows you to see patterns of behavior and thoughts when you read past entries.

4. Purge

This may seem counterintuitive but clean up your house. Get rid of people who don't serve you well. Far too often, people hold on to relationships that are unhealthy which can cause you to feel lonely.  You may actually feel lonely by being in unfulfilling relationships. It may not be the fact that you are alone that is causing you to be lonely but rather someone is causing you to feel lonely. If that person wasn't in your space you may feel better. So, let go of the relationships that drain you or cause you to feel alone even in their presence. Become clear on what you want and need in a relationship whether it's with friends, colleagues or intimacy. Regardless of the type of relationship you are in, you need to be clear on what you want and need out of that relationship, and if you are finding people who don't add up to what you desire...then let them go.