Every now and again, the craziness of the last eighteen months really hits me. About a week ago I drove past a bus that had ‘Vaccination Centre’ as it’s destination point, flashing in neon writing. The driver was wearing something resembling a wartime gas mask and behind him sat rows of passengers looking soulless and expressionless behind their face coverings. Not for the first time; I had the sneaking suspicion I was dreaming, or at least had woken up in an alternative universe.
Another one of these surreal moments was watching Boris Johnson (always feels slightly surreal that the man who got stuck on a zip wire while holding two paper union jacks, is actually you know… running the country) announce that we were now allowed to (cautiously) hug each other.
I imagine that with this news, people are going to fall into one of three camps, depending on how this pandemic has affected us and our poor battered mental health.
- Firstly you’ll have the rebels. The “I’ve been hugging people for ages anyway” folk.
- Then there’ll be my tribe… the not-very-cautious huggers. Those of us who are big fans of physical contact (whether we know the person or not) are going to be like sprinters at the start-line on May 17th. Basically if you cross our paths next Monday, you’re getting hugged. Soz.
- Lastly there’ll be the ‘Back-off Brigade’. Some might still have a fear of Covid-19, some might just have got very used to not being hugged. Whatever their reasoning, next week might throw up some challenges and us huggers will have to be mindful of respecting other people’s boundaries… Nobody wants a restraining order on their record now do they?
But why was Boris’s announcement last night met with such glee? The newspaper headlines today are all awash with ‘Hugging is allowed!’ rather than ‘You can go inside a pub’. And what has eighteen months of no hugging done for our psyche? To answer that question we need to understand what happens in the human body and brain when we hug someone.
Hugging releases our happy hormones, dopamine and oxytocin. It’s also important to remember that hugging is a shared experience, you get the buzz of giving affection, as well as the buzz of receiving affection. Win win! Hugging has been shown to reduce feelings of isolation, loneliness, stress and depression; feelings which might well have been in abundance in the past year or so. Hugging has even been found to have benefits for your physical health, in terms of boosting immunity and heart function.
When I first set up The Good Thing Is Though; I designed a range of T-shirts to raise money for Childline. The bestseller was the one with the slogan ‘The Good Thing Is Though… I’m Not A Hugger Anyway”. Oh how flippant we were back then! We had no idea how long those hugs would be removed from us.
Although at times this past year I’ve wanted to escape my crazy house and take a long walk off a short pier (with my pockets full of bricks), I’ve ultimately been so grateful that when I’ve felt frightened or lonely, I’ve had a household of boys to ask for a hug. I’ve really worried about people living alone and what that lack of human touch might be doing to them over a prolonged period of time. A condition which hasn’t made headline news but has had devastating effects for some people during the pandemic is called touch starvation. Just hearing some of the side effects of a lack of physical contact is enough to make me put on my ‘Free Hugs’ Tshirt and head out onto the street.
So however you do it next week, I hope it works for you and your boundaries. I hope it fills up your cup with joy. I hope the person smells nice. I hope it’s not one of those awkward ones where you both move the same way three times and laugh nervously. I hope you cherish it. I hope we’re never told it’s off the table, ever again.
Enjoyed this? You might want to check out this article about reducing anxiety and finding coping strategies as lockdown eases.