Physical Touch in a Pandemic
By: Ashlee Wong, MA
It’s been 9 months since our office closed due to the Safer at Home initiative and 10 months since we first began to see cases in the US. I know most of us have been able to find alternatives to continue as much of our normal routines as possible but one of the most universal things I’ve heard is that people miss being able to physically touch other people. Whether they mean a handshake or a hug, it’s been nearly a year since most of us have been able to embrace friends, family, or sometimes even strangers without thinking about it or immediately slathering ourselves in sanitizer afterwards. As the holiday season is upon us, this is the time when the most hugging often occurs as we usually celebrate with our loved ones. Seeing as most of us are likely not able to see as many people as we once did over the holidays, I’ve been thinking about alternatives that might help anyone who misses the familiarity of a warm hug.
No matter where you stand on the amount of physical touch you enjoy, there is significant benefit from receiving a hug from a loved one. A hug lasting at least several seconds with someone we love will increase hormones including oxytocin and serotonin. When we have a higher level of those hormones, we often feel less stressed. Consequently, our immune systems can receive a boost because we are not as stressed and it may also reduce our heart rates and blood pressure. If you find yourself in the predicament of not having someone to hug you this holiday season, here are a few substitutes that might help produce a small fraction of the benefits you would get from a long hug from grandma before Christmas dinner.
1: Use a weighted blanket – Weighted blankets are not a new item in the marketplace and I’m sure many of us who are inclined to use one have already purchased one. If you don’t have one, the weight sewn into the blankets help reduce anxiety by placing gentle pressure all over your body – similar to a hug.
2: Cuddle with your pets – This one is obviously dependent on already having a pet to cuddle with but this might be especially helpful if you live alone.
3: Signature Scents – If you know your loved ones’ favorite perfume or cologne, spray it on something that you can hold either while you see them on Zoom or in small moments when you miss them the most. A body pillow seems the most helpful since it has the most similar shape to another person even if it might not have the same weight but it might help to seem like they’re with you even for a short time.
4: Mindfulness – Imagine your fondest memory with someone you’ve been dying to see in person. Let yourself be fully invested in the memory including closing your eyes while you recall specific details like what you were wearing, what you both did together, and environmental details like the smell of food you ate together. Mindfulness is powerful and may elicit some of the pleasurable hormones that hugging does without leaving the house or buying any additional props.
5: Create a bubble – If you do feel comfortable and are able to trust a select group of people, we can still practice good hygiene as we hug. Keep your masks on as you make sure your heads face opposite each other and keep the hug to under 10 seconds.
Written by: ASHLEE WONG MA, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist 103135. Supervised by Dr. Joselyn Josephine Ayala-Encalada Psy.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 96987