The Pandemic Paused Hugging — Here's What We Lost

Social distancing, to your everyday homo sapien, is nothing more than a painful oxymoron. You can't be both social — something that humans inherently are — and distant. You can't be together and apart. Still, over the past couple of years, that's what's been expected of us — to not gather, to separate, to keep 6 feet between us, yet still carry on as if our entire social existence hasn't been trashed. It's practically inhuman. What seems to be emerging is that hugs, as well as other forms of affectionate touch, are really powerful ways of reminding people that they're cared about, they belong, that they have someone in their corner. We expect touch. When we're born, we're placed in our mother's arms almost immediately. In that first year of our life, we spend a lot of time being held by other people. As we grow up, we seek out hugs and touch as a way of connecting. What has been lost in the past couple of years are those really easy opportunities to be reminded of connection. What scientists have found is that hugs aren't just reserved for simple social greetings. Hugs and other forms of physical touch can really change a person's moods. Some of the body's physiological reaction to hugs may center on oxytocin, a hormone that has been linked to hugging and lowering blood pressure. Hugs and other forms of personal touch also may trigger our endogenous opioid system, which can release all sorts of feel-good and stress-relieving chemicals. Hugs help us feel safer and more cared-for, which reduces stress. There aren't enough words to describe the benefits of hugs, so get up and go hug somebody.