Loss of Hugs: Mental Health During the Pandemic

When the whole world was following social and physical distancing norms, the one thing that disappeared from our lives were hugs. Humans are designed to feel touched and to touch. Considerable loss has been seen during the pandemic, especially for people living alone.

According to Dr Katerina Fotopoulu, who is a psychodynamic neuroscience professor at the University of London, the human body “has built all its models based on touch” it receives from caregivers. Humans are dependent on caregivers to satisfy the core needs of the body. Without touch, only a little can be done.


The significance of touch in our life

As adults, we don’t usually realize the value of touch, even when it is not there. Prof Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist based at Liverpool John Moores University and a leader in the field of affective touch says, “We might begin to realise that something is missing, but we won’t always know that it’s touch. But when we talk about the problem of loneliness, we often ignore the obvious: what lonely people aren’t getting is touch.”

Robin Dunbar, evolutionary psychologist Professor at the University of Oxford said that touch has a huge role to play in determining our psychological and physical welfare. We touch our friends and family more than we realize. His research has shown that on an average, we have five friends we can depend on and call as our shoulder to cry on.

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He explained that a similar observation has been seen in primates. Even in much larger primate cultures, at every layer, groups of five best friends are seen, grooming together as their form of social touch.

Hugs and the Pandemic

Experts have claimed that hugs are good for us. Hugs stimulate a chemical reaction which reduces stress and makes us feel better. We have experienced a loss of hugs and touch during the pandemic due to the social distancing norms.

Dr Kelsey Scampoli, a psychologist from M Health Fairview said that hugs give us a beautiful feeling within, and make us feel connected to people. Hugging produces the hormone oxytocin, which is also commonly referred to as the love hormone. The increase of oxytocin in our body makes us feel bonded to others, and hence we feel more generous as well.

Scampoli says, “Some research shows we would prefer touch over food.”

The psychologist further said that this is a challenge since when we are out with our family, we forget about COVID-19. Our first instinct is to hug them, but we shouldn’t be doing this during the pandemic. It is harder to get the oxytocin when we are not allowed to touch each other.

Scampoli believes in one secret weapon in these hugless times, and that is empathy. She says, “With that increase in empathy, your oxytocin can increase because you’re connected with that person.”

Looking at a photograph can make your body release oxytocin. She explains, “Think about the happy feelings. Try to remember what it was like to be there, and get the benefits of looking at the photo.” Even a kind conversation between you and your neighbour can do the magic of releasing oxytocin.

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