One of the biggest losses for all of us during the pandemic was the lack of comfortably touching or hugging each other except perhaps in the privacy of our own homes. Even then, many of us were on edge, fearing that somehow we were exchanging Covid germs. Hugging and touching was to be avoided in virtually every setting. We took our Covid tests whenever we felt slightly ill and checked with others to see what their status was before we agreed to be in the same room with them. In a way we were treated and treated others as if they had leprosy.
We worked hard to make virtual meetings replace in-person ones. We could see each other’s faces, hear their voices, see what they were wearing from the chest up. We could joke about people wearing PJ’s and often saw pets stroll in to be petted. But in those settings, we could not actually replace the power of human touch.
You can find dozens of outstanding articles and blogs if you google “The Power of Touch.” The June 2022 issue of National Geographic highlighted stating, “Touch is a fundamental aspect of social interaction, which is a fundamental need….Social touch calms the recipient of the touch during stressful experiences….can reduce activation of threat-related regions of the brain….Can influence activation in the stress pathway in the nervous system, reducing levels of the stress hormones… Has been found to stimulate the release of oxytocin, a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus….Elevated levels of oxytocin are associated with increased trust, cooperative behavior, sharing with strangers, and the more effective reading of others emotions, and more constructive conflict resolution.”
According to the NIH National Library of Medicine in an article entitled Touch-Hunger: “Numerous studies have described the various negative effects of experiencing a lack of touch, including aggressive behaviors, impairment in speech and communication, lowered self-esteem, and increasing anxiety, depression, self-injurious behavior, and eating disorders.”
We are gradually re-emerging from our forced two-year hibernation and are trying to re-acclimate to a world that once again accepts physical interactions, although we still may often hesitate and ask for permission to give someone a hug. Certainly, many of us have experienced increased anxiety and depression as a result of living through a pandemic. It has been an overwhelming experience – and many of us have lost loved ones while others are experiencing what is called Long Covid, the after-effects of having contracted the virus.
The holidays are a time of celebration, a time when we gather with friends and families once again. We carry the emotional impact of experiencing over two years of fear around physical connecting and may feel a little awkward as we reengage with each other.
As we move through the holiday season I suggest we pause from time to time to appreciate that now we can once again touch and hug to express our affection for each other, and experience all those wonderful neurochemicals of love and physical connection. For me I am thankful to our Creator who made us creatures who need and crave physical touch. Certainly we can use our words, do helpful and considerate things for others, shower each other with cards and gifts, but those actions cannot replace the gift we give whenever we hug and touch our loved ones. Thank goodness we can once again treasure the gift of touch.
Invitation for Reflection
- When you look back over the last two plus years in which we had to limit and even eliminate touching our friends and even family members, what do you remember feeling? How did you manage those feelings?
- What are you now enjoying as we are able to engage in more physical contact with each other? What do you notice? How do you manage your reactions and give yourself permission to relearn being able to give and receive physical connections?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute