How About a Hug?
One of the things I miss most since quarantine started is hugs.
Like, the unrestrained, never-awkward kind between friends that you’ve known absolutely forever. The quick ones that accompany cheek kisses with new acquaintances that you’re sure will be in your life well past cocktail hour. The silly ones that your neighbor’s toddler gives you, leaving you sticky and smiling. All of them.
I actually just miss casual touching. A light touch on my arm, a pat on my shoulder, a squeeze just above my knee.
But, with social distancing, just plain distance created by online school and working from home, delivered meals, Zoom cocktail party, drive by birthdays… there just isn’t a lot of hugging that’s happening. Like, none. And, I started to wonder if maybe there was something wrong with me that I notice it so acutely. Feel the loss so sharply.
So, like a writer, I did a little research.
First, I came across the concept of “Love Languages.” You may have heard of this theory of the different way in which we are able to give and receive love, popularized by author Gray Chapman. There are five: touch, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and quality time. (I’ve listed them in the order in which I appreciate them). According to this idea, everybody has a primary love language, and usually a secondary one, that is pretty easy to identify. In fact, the way you give love most intuitively and naturally is usually the way you’re hoping to receive it. Meaning, if you give thoughtful, extravagant gifts, that is usually because you are consciously or unconsciously hoping for reciprocity. I found this super helpful when thinking about my kiddos: am I giving them love in the way they receive it best? Same for my partner. And, it made it abundantly clear that my primary love language is touch. Thus, my acute NEED FOR A HUG.
Second, I found there is a wealth of research on the actual physics benefits of hugs. For example, according to Dr. Ken Humphrey, hugs have been found to “instantly boost oxytocin levels which decrease stress hormones and heal feelings of loneliness, anger and isolation.” And, for women specifically, authors Light KC, Grewen KM, and Amico JA found in 2005 that frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Like, literally, hugs enhance your cardiovascular health and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease. So even though you’re not leaving the house, don’t forget to hug your partner: It is not only good for your relationship, but also keeps your heart healthy.
So, that’s cool. I now have research to back me up when I demand my morning hugs. #winning
But then, I stumbled across this article, called “Here’s The Science Behind Why We Hug” and in it, there is a section about regressing as an adult. Evidently, when this happens, we crave hugs. Meaning, we hug, or crave hugging, because it creates feelings of security, lessens our anxiety response, and it’s a way of signaling a vulnerability or need for help. And, we do this when we are feeling unsettled, uneasy, unsupported or just uncomfortable.
In our culture, it can feel like an embarrassment or a failure to admit we need some support or a shoulder to cry on, but in fact these feelings are normal. And, truly, let’s acknowledge that this is not just a sane response to a pandemic, but also wise. If this month’s mental health awareness campaigns have taught us nothing else, we know that suffering in silence or alone is incredibly harmful. Seeking connection and support may be called “regressive,” but the reality is that it’s a human need. And, hugs are a precious part of that.
This made me realize why I still want to write funny, sweet stories even though I’m feeling a totally disconnected from most other humans: connection and love and joy are always a need. The need to feel not alone doesn’t go away in a pandemic; it’s amplified. Duh!
My takeaway from all of this?
Craving hugs is my body’s way of reminding me that I am, and we all are, called to connection. So, I’m gonna wrap my arms around myself extra tight, and then get back to writing about other people hugging and living their happily-ever-afters.
In love and laughter, (and with extra hugs and kisses),
P.S. Let me know in the comments if there is something that YOU miss since the pandemic started!