During the coronavirus pandemic, it may feel like hugs are a thing of the past. In fact, of all the things you may crave during this difficult time, a hug may top the list. The isolation and lack of human connection are part of what makes quarantining so difficult. The longing for human touch and connection is as basic as any human need, and there’s strong evidence that hugs don’t just make you feel good. Researchers have found that giving your loved ones an affectionate squeeze can actually be good for your health.
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“The health benefits of giving and receiving hugs are quite impressive. Hugs have a therapeutic effect on people,” says psychologist Joe Rock, PsyD. He says hugs are a good way to show someone you care about them. What’s more, they’re good for your health.
“Research shows that hugs can be healthy,” says Dr. Rock. “Hugs cause a decrease in the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, and other research indicates that hugs decrease your blood pressure and heart rate in stressful situations,” he adds.
Additional research found that giving and receiving hugs can actually strengthen your immune system.
Dr. Rock says hugging seems to have a therapeutic effect. That’s because your brain has specific pathways created to detect human touch.
“We can detach ourselves from people and get locked up in our own world,” he says. “Just the physical act of hugging someone really does connect us with them and lets down some of our defenses.”
Hugging communicates that you are safe, loved and that you are not alone — a much-needed message right about now.
Ways you can safely give (and receive) affection during the coronavirus pandemic
Things have certainly changed since we’ve all become aware of coronavirus. Adhering to social distancing guidelines and masking up may make you fearful of physical touch or hugging. But is there a way to walk a balance between carefully distanced and also connected?
Given that hugging can actually raise the level of oxytocin or “feel good” chemical in your brain, connecting — in whatever way we can — may be just the ticket right now. The safest thing to do is to avoid hugs. But there are some safe ways to give and receive affection right now.
- Hug a pet: Numerous studies have shown therapeutic relationships between humans and pets.
- Hug a loved one in your household: You’re already sharing germs with those in your household. Now may be a perfect time to hug members of your household more often.
- Invest in a body pillow: It might not be exactly the same as spooning with a loved one, but hugging a pillow can be comforting. And some research shows body pillows can be good for alleviating back pain, helping pregnant women find a comfy sleeping position, and even reducing snoring.
- Connect with loved ones online: Technology has definitely helped many weather the coronavirus storm. FaceTime, Zoom and other video conferencing apps can help you feel connected while remaining safely socially distant.
- Self-care during quarantine: Use the extra time to pamper yourself or start a new self-care routine. Facials, bubble baths, and online exercise programs offer many options for taking care of yourself while staying safe.
- Mask up and head out: If you crave the close proximity of friends, do so safely. Wash your hands well, don your favorite mask, and meet a friend for a socially distant coffee date at an outdoor coffee shop, for example. Or, call ahead for take out, and have a picnic in an outdoor location (still masked and six feet apart, of course).
The coronavirus has definitely changed the way we give and receive affection. But it’s important for our mental health to remain connected to those we love. With some creativity, and a little planning, we can do so safely and share affection with those who are important to us.