Selena Gomez is careful with her words—and for good reason.

In ELLE's October issue, Gomez reveals she recently moved to Orange County to escape the ever-present paparazzi. "It's been such a release. L.A.'s just gotten really claustrophobic for me," she tells the magazine. "I can't do any of the things I do here in L.A. It's just impossible."

Wherever Gomez goes in L.A., the paparazzi are sure to follow. For example, after Demi Lovato suffered an apparent overdose in July, Gomez appeared upset in candid photos days later. "All I'm saying is, I reached out personally. I didn't do a public thing. I didn't want to. I…I love her," she says, confirming E! News' report. "I've known her since I was 7. So…it's…that's what I'll say."

Selena Gomez, ELLE

Mariano Vivanco/ELLE

Considering the public scrutiny she's faced, it's understandable why Gomez would feel protective over Lovato and not one to discuss her one-time BFF's struggles with the press. And now that she's away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, Gomez feels like she can finally breathe. "Right now, I feel very sure of where I am. I don't feel erratic or emotionally unstable. Or like I can't handle my emotions, like I used to. It's kind of understanding myself a little more. By all means, I don't have myself figured out," the former child star explains. "But it feels good."

Calling it both "peaceful" and "weird," the singer says, "The moment I turned 26, I felt 26."

Selena Gomez, ELLE

Mariano Vivanco/ELLE

Getting away from the paparazzi has been a godsend for Gomez, who is hard at work on her long-delayed album. "I think everything in my life is being majorly downsized, in a very good way. I'm going back to simplicity. That's always who I've been. It's not me saying, 'I feel the best I've ever felt.' It's me saying, 'I'm exactly where I am. And I'm so happy I'm in this place,'" she says. "It's a lot of self-discovery. From 20 to 26? Oh my gosh. I feel like a totally different person." For a while, Gomez tells ELLE, "I think I did certain things because I thought I had to."

Selena Gomez, ELLE

Mariano Vivanco/ELLE

Gomez is designing a different life for herself in Orange County. She has quietly been interning at A21, a global anti–human-trafficking nonprofit, and she's committed to staying off social media. "I'm not on the internet. I haven't been on the internet in months. I don't have my password for Instagram. I have no apps on my phone, no photo editing apps. I have Peak, a brain game," she reveals. "The reason why is, it's not real to me. I know my voice is very prominent, but I'm not careless with it. I'm selective. As far as my personal life, someone sees me having a glass of wine? I could give two s--ts. I'm not trying to hide. That's my life. I'm living it the way I want to live it. But it's about making a conscious effort—if I can have a moment to be with my friends, I'll take that time. So, I don't have any of it. I had to make that decision."

ELLE's October issue is on newsstands Sept. 25.

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