I decided to jot down some of the things that I really miss as a result of Covid and the restrictions that we need to follow to stay safe and healthy. As we enter our 10th month of the pandemic, I will admit that it is taking a little bit of a toll. Nothing serious.
First and foremost, I am so grateful that I have remained virus free, knock on wood. And I am so grateful that my children, extended family, and friends are by and large safe. For the few of my friends that have contracted the virus, thank goodness they were able to weather the discomfort without having to go to the hospital and they are fine now.
Having said that, the reality is that over the last 10 months the protocols required have had an impact. At least they have on me.
I have made a list of what I miss the most during this period. It is not a short list. But the first item on it, and the one that is the one I miss the most is hugging. Yes, indeed.
Never thought that much about the value of a hug before, but, boy, do I miss being able to hug a loved one, a friend, and a person who is in need of a hug. A hug can show love, affection, friendship, or sympathy.
Now, the closest thing I can do is pump a fist with another person, or trade elbows. Weird and totally unsatisfying. These do not come close to what a hug provides to either party.
When I say I miss a hug, and the ability to give a hug, I am referring to a really good hug. I am not talking about any pathetic effort at a hug. No, sir. I am talking about a real hug. A real hug has both arms around the other person in some form or fashion. High, low, fully embraced, or not. But there is no question that there is some real emotion involved in the embrace with the arms.
A real good hug is not just about the arms. No way. It includes the upper part of the body too. The body frame. And it includes more often than not a head on a shoulder. A real hug involves multiple parts of the body. And a real good hug lasts for more than a few seconds. The longer the hug, the more it means.
But more importantly it involves some real emotion.
It is sending a message that is heartfelt. I care about you. I am so glad to be with you, see you and spend time with you. I have your back. These are all the kinds of messages that a hug transmits.
In the past, pre-Covid, I took hugging for granted. I did not think of it as a big deal, or a particularly special event or occasion. But now, without it, I sure miss it. I now really understand how important a hug can be to communicating with another human being. It can be so important to connecting with another person. It can be crucial in engaging at a deep level with another.
This void in my life has provoked my curiosity. I have done a little bit of research on hugging.
It turns out that hugging is good for your health. I did not have any idea that there were some health benefits from hugging. Here are some pretty amazing excerpts from an article written by Stacey Colino in US News and World Report.
- “In a 2015 study involving 404 healthy adults, Carnegie Mellon University lead researcher Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology, said “Hugging is a marker of intimacy and helps generate the feeling that others are there to help in the face of adversity.”
- How hugging fits in: “When you’re hugging or cuddling with someone, [he or she is] stimulating pressure receptors under your skin in a way that leads to a cascade of events including an increase in vagal activity, which puts you in a relaxed state,” explains psychologist Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. One theory is that stimulation of the vagus nerve triggers an increase in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is often called “the bonding hormone” because it promotes attachment in relationships, including between mothers and their newborn babies. It influences mood, behavior and physiology.
- The hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. In a 2011 study of postpartum mothers, researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill found that hugs lower blood pressure.
- Moreover, in some studies involving animals, “oxytocin has been found to diminish inflammation following acute stroke and cardiac arrest,” notes Greg Norman, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.
- There’s also some evidence that oxytocin can improve immune function and pain tolerance. A 2010 study from Ohio State University found that couples with more positive communication behaviors have higher levels of oxytocin and they heal faster from wounds.
- On the mood front, oxytocin is known to increase levels of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, which may be why it has calming effects. “It reduces depression and anxiety, and it may have an effect on attentional disorders,” Field says. In fact, a 2010 study from Ohio State University found that when socially-housed animals were treated with a pharmacological agent that inhibited oxytocin signaling, they exhibited an increase in depressive-like behavior.
- The take-home message: Just because we’re in the midst of cold and flu season, there’s no reason to keep your distance from people you care about. “Like diet and exercise, you need a steady daily dose of hugging,” Field says. But the quality of the hugging counts, too. “If you get a flimsy hug, that’s not going to do it,” Field says. “You need a firm hug” to stimulate oxytocin release.
- Of course, you won’t actually know if your oxytocin level shoots up with hugging, but don’t sweat it. The hug itself is likely to make you feel supported and cared about. “I suggest not worrying too much about the oxytocin portion, since what really matters is how these interactions impact emotional well-being,” Norman says. In this case, feeling is as good as believing in the power of oxytocin.”
The one statement above that stands out to me is the quote from Dr. Field, who says “Just because we’re in the midst of cold and flu season, there’s no reason to keep your distance from people you care about. Like diet and exercise, you need a steady daily dose of hugging.”
In my opinion, as in cold and flu seasons mentioned above, during Covid times there is a need to have a steady dose of hugging too. Can’t we find a way to provide a hug that does not transmit the dreaded virus? For example, can we hug if we wear double masks and hold our breath during the hug?
I want to hug so many people! And I wouldn’t mind being hugged myself.