Are You Feeling Hug-Deprived Because of Covid?

cheerful African American family of three hugging sitting on the couch at home.

As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on most of us, causing varying degrees of stress, fear, loss, anxiety, grief and other struggles. Our normal lives have been disrupted and continue to be acutely impacted by this pandemic. Our previous normal seems to be gone, our patterns of life deeply altered.

Something Covid-19 has interrupted for many of us is our freedom to hug each other. Social distancing makes hugging virtually impossible! At least within our families hugging is permissible but even then, we may hesitate if we are concerned we might somehow transmit or receive Covid germs.

I have felt an instant and strange hesitancy when I either start to hug someone or they come at me ready to embrace. Sometimes it is a fleeting hesitancy and then one of us smiles and signals that it’s okay to hug. At other times we go for a fist or elbow bump to substitute a moment of physical connection.

Hugging issues are not a new thing for many of us. A supervisor of mine when I was studying to be a family therapist once said that we need a minimum of seven hugs a day. I’m not sure if this was based on research or was his professional opinion but it was a number that impressed me. I thought how many hugs a day I was receiving (which usually was fewer than seven) and then thought about all the people who do not receive a sufficiency of hugs in their daily lives.

Dr. Ashley Montague understood that touching was essential to support the mother in labor and for the newborn baby. From his book entitled Touching: The Significance of the Human Skin he shared that centuries ago half of infants in their first year of life died regularly. He stated that in 1915, Dr. Henry Dwight Chapin, a New York pediatrician found in all but one institution in 10 different cities that every infant under two died. He describes another report of 200 infants admitted to various institutions in Baltimore in which 90% died within a year and the 10% that survived… “did so apparently because they were taken from the institutions for short times and placed in care of foster parents or relatives.”

So we might surmise the following:

 happy father embraces his cute daughter, little girl smiling, cuddling, and enjoying time together.

Hugs can help soothe your fears
A study on fears and self-esteem showed that hugging and touching greatly lower fears of death. The study found that even if it’s just a stuffed teddy bear, hugging helps soothe a person’s fears.

Hugs are good for your heart
Not only does a hug feel good, but it’s good for a heart-healthy lifestyle. In an experiment at the University of North Carolina participants who didn’t have any contact with their partners developed a faster heart rate than those who received hugs.

Well-hugged babies lead to well-adjusted adults
Can’t stop hugging your baby? Don’t! Research shows that babies who receive a lot of physical affection will develop better coping mechanisms as they grow up.

As challenging as it has been for us as adults to deal with being hug-deprived, think about how painful and even emotionally damaging it has been for children, who have lived in a world where they probably didn’t receive as many hugs as pre-pandemic. I encourage parents to be highly intentional about giving and receiving hugs from their kids, knowing that these hugs can have profoundly important effects on them. We all need to find our way back to a world where hugs are freely given and received, and we all can experience the many benefits those hugs offer us.

Invitation for Reflection:

Two happy little girlfriends hug each other in cheerful way.

• Think about your hugging (or lack thereof) experiences during the pandemic. What do you notice?  What do you think the impact has been on you, your mental health, your levels of stress, loneliness and anxiety?

• As restrictions gradually are lifted, how do you think you will feel as you are freer to hug and be hugged?

• How can you help the children in your life re-enter a world where they are more regularly hugged? Consider sharing some information with them about the power and importance of hugging to help them navigate the shifts back to a world where hugging is once again accepted.

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute