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Danielle Charron has always been a homebody, but pandemic restrictions deepened the urge. Now, even though lockdowns have long been lifted, she’s still skipping out on plans after making them.

In the past three years, she and her partner have bought tickets to see two bands, Bahamas and Broken Social Scene. “We bought the concert tickets probably two months, maybe even three or four months in advance. At the time, I was feeling really hopeful about the idea of going to do those things again. The closer I got, I was like, I’m not ready for this,” she said.

Charron, a 42-year-old medical librarian from Hamilton, is keenly aware that COVID-19 is still affecting a significant portion of the population. This, she said, is partly what is influencing her decisions about when and how to go out. But her desire to stay home is also driven by the fact that she and her partner recently bought and fixed up an old home. “I’ve just spent so much money and time and effort to make this house our home. I really don’t want to leave it that often,” she said.

She has good connections with a small group of friends, whom she keeps in touch with through phone calls and texts. “I don’t have to be there in person for them, and I’m okay with that,” she said. ”I’m more comfortable with solitude now.”

Charron is not alone. An Ipsos Reid study in March, 2022, found that 65 per cent of Canadians feel more emotionally connected with their homes because of the pandemic.

But habits formed during the height of the pandemic are not the only reason a person might choose to stay home. Winter weather might play a part, as might the rising cost of, well, pretty much everything. An Ipsos Reid poll from November found that 30 per cent of Canadians are spending less time seeing friends, in order to save money.

The same poll found that one in five respondents said they are feeling isolated as a result of staying home more often. This is where things get worrying: For every handful of happy homebodies, there are some feeling lonely.

While there are undeniable positives to spending time alone, experts say too much loneliness can damage not only emotional well-being, but also physical health. The line between solitude and isolation is a fine one, and knowing how to tread it without negative effects takes awareness.

Kim Samuel, an author and researcher who studies social connection, said the inclination to stay at home may, for some people, be a pandemic habit that needs to be shaken up. “Our habits are what turn into days and years and so on,” she said. “When you get used to something, sometimes that just becomes ‘the’ thing. I think that there’s something about this comfort level – and maybe it’s a false comfort level – of, ‘Oh, I’m safe at home.’ ”

When we go out less, Samuel said, we’re also “giving up the opportunity to deepen relationships in a way that I believe can only be done face to face.”

The health impacts of social isolation are well documented. A 2023 report from the U.S. Surgeon General says social isolation can increase stress and anxiety, and have a bigger impact on mortality than smoking, drinking alcohol, physical activity or air pollution.

Simon Thibault said he became a homebody when the pandemic started. He is now trying to shake off the instinct to turn down invitations.

“I kind of leaned into it a little bit too far,” he said. “I started to say no out of habit and would find reasons to stay in the house, and then started noticing the negative effects of this kind of isolation, and I thought I need to break this habit.”

He had started feeling that he was living in social austerity. “We can’t live in isolation,” he said. “Eventually any kind of survival mechanism is not a way of living; it’s surviving.”

In January, Thibault, a 47-year-old who lives in Halifax, took his first trip out of Nova Scotia since before the pandemic to house sit for a friend in Toronto. “My immediate response was, I don’t know if I want to do this,” he said. “But then I thought, you need to go and do things again. It will be a little difficult and slightly uncomfortable at first. Then, as soon as you say yes, you find reasons to keep saying yes.”

He has committed himself to being a tourist while visiting the city. He said he’s going to weekend markets, for instance, and is planning a trip to New York State with a friend.

For him, the transition away from his homebody habits has been gradual. He attributes this to fear – of getting sick, of being away from comfortable spaces, of being around the unfamiliar. “You can have all the intelligent arguments, but if you have an emotional reaction to a situation it’s very difficult to let that go. Especially if they are fear-based,” he said.

But there is value to spending time on one’s own. Robert Coplan, a professor in the department of psychology at Carleton University, has been studying solitude and its implications. He has found that, for those who choose it, it can be restorative. “It’s possible to feel bad because you’re not getting enough time alone,” he said.

“It’s solitude that helps take the edge off of our bad moods. It has a calming effect. It’s also a relief from social pressures – freedom from all of the other voices and inputs that we get in our day to day.”

For some, solitude is liberating. “It’s a place for spirituality and creativity, growth and self exploration,” he added.

Coplan stressed the importance of finding a balance between solitude and social time. “Both of those things matter, and everybody has to find their just-right balance between alone time and social time.”

His advice for figuring out just how much time at home is too much is fairly simple: “Track your solitude time and your socializing time over a week and track your mood and see what’s going on there. That might give you some clues about which one or the other you need more or less of.”

In other words, me time is good. Us time is, too. Just make sure you’re getting enough of both of them.

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