The genuine threat of contracting COVID-19 from the novel coronavirus has sparked a new level of hyper-awareness about the importance of things we already knew but probably did not practice diligently.
Just think of the basics: washing hands with soap and water, avoiding those who are sick, staying home and away from others when we are sick.
But, because of the nature of how this virus adversely affects individuals who are older or have a compromised immune system, we have had to alter what comes naturally. As a species, humans are social beings. We like to gather in groups and touch, especially in the form of a hug.
Before the current pandemic, I unwittingly took for granted the hugs that I received from and gave to my parents. All of that changed in early March 2020.
Both of my parents are over 65 years old, and they followed the suggestions from health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about utilizing social distancing as a tactic to protect themselves from contracting the coronavirus.
I cannot recall the exact date that I last hugged my mother and father, but I know it was in early March.
Fast-forward three months later to June, during a recent porch visit—my family’s social distancing way of visiting—my mother asked if I had a sheet.
I thought the question was odd, but I said, “Yes, you need one?”
My mother nodded and said, “I’m going to hug you and my grandbaby!”
To make a long story short, we kept our facial masks on; then, we used a queen-sized flat sheet; my mother went first. She draped the sheet over my daughter from head to toe, then squeezed her tight, then me. Next, my father did the same thing: my daughter first, and then me.
After both hugs, I felt a swell of emotions surging, and I felt like crying. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed being able to hug my parents, and I felt a sense of relief.
Immediately afterward, I thought, I have to write a blog about this. I had always heard that hugs were good for you, and I hug my daughter and husband often. Still, I needed to know why embracing my parents after not being able to do so for over two months gave me a feeling like I had exhaled after having held my breath for a very long time.
First, hugs are so beneficial that there is national recognition every January 21 to commemorate this form of touch.
Second, according to researchers, touch tells us that we are loved and valued, and makes us feel connected to others. Additionally, this physical touch protects us from stress-induced illness. The “love hormone” oxytocin provides tremendous health benefits, and our brain releases this molecule when we experience social connection and physical contact. Researchers note that oxytocin lowers the body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol. Receiving a hug helps reduce stress and lowers blood pressure, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease. It also eases anxiety.
“Touch is the fundamental language of connection,” says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in the April 10, 2020 issue of TIME Magazine. According to Keltner, a lack of physical touch can affect people in more ways than they might realize.
Third, hugs are great for our mental health. According to science, hugs increase serotonin: the “feel good” hormone in our brain. When we experience feelings of happiness, confidence, and calm, that is serotonin at work.
Although hugs are powerful, they are not a remedy for everything. If you follow a treatment plan that requires prescribed medication, consult with your health care provider licensed through the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). Check the provider’s license status by using DCA’s license search tool: search.dca.ca.gov.