January 21 (great date: 21-Jan-21) is International Hugging Day. It also falls during Walk Your Dog Month, which makes it even greater. But this year, with COVID-19 still running wild, let’s make sure it’s a happy day!
Research has found hugging the most effective anti-depressant. Many experts have written about hugs and their ability to change our chemistry. Touch in general has very healing power.
This year, International Hugging Day will be a bit sad due to the COVID-19. I worry that the forced isolation will disconnect people and that many will forget the hard work of thousands of people around the world, like many free hug campaigns, to connect.
Hugging is very close to my heart. I wasn’t always a hugging person. When I was a child, the kids in my neighborhood got plenty of touch playing outside. But we didn’t hug or touch much in the family, and we thought it was normal. When we met family members, including grandparents, there were no kisses or hugs.
I was very lucky to awaken to the importance of touch at an early stage of my life. It was, in fact, through my first nephew.
I was about 16 years old and when he was born, and I didn’t understand how so much love and touch and hugs and kisses could stop at some stage. My heart was bursting with love for him and all I wanted to do is touch him, hug him and hold hands with him. I got so much out of it that I promised myself I would never stop. And I never did!
When my daughter was born, I discovered that touch was healing. When her soft skin touched mine, I felt invincible. Healed. Recharged.
I’m sure the effects of the touch combined with good, loving thoughts to make the sense of healing. Being touched, by itself, without any intention, doesn’t do the full job, but a loving touch works magic.
Many years ago, I took part in the world Free Hug campaign. Our family went to the streets with FREE HUG signs and hugged the people passing by. It was an amazing experience!
People suspected us at first, but that dissolved very quickly. We assured them we weren’t from a cult, a church, or a religion institute. We let them know we weren’t from any business, weren’t selling them anything and weren’t trying to solicit them to do anything.
We said to them, “If you want a hug, come to us”. We only promoted hugs, for health and human connection. Because “12 hugs a day keep the doctor away”.
It was an amazing experience. In every event, we had 10 to 15 huggers. We hugged for one hour at a time. After so much touching, pure love, and good intentions, we felt so high, it blew our mind.
I felt sad this year when I saw our videos from years ago, hugging people on the street. This year, with quarantine and social distancing (OMG, I hate this phrase), we can’t do it. 2020 was a social pandemic, because of the distance. Not because of the virus.
Social distancing leads to disconnection
Many psychological theories claim our emotional challenges come from disconnection. Many people feel they don’t belong. They don’t feel connected, appreciated, respected, or even accepted. That feeling can play a big role in our dysfunction.
Feeling disconnected is a thought, coming from a distorted definition of reality. We think we are connected only when other people or a specific group of people approve of our behavior, thoughts and sometimes just the way we look.
We are connected with everything just by being alive. To overcome this distorted feeling of disconnect, we need to find people, connect with them, find similarities, and share our life with them.
The problem we have now is that social distancing stops us from finding those new people we can connect with, share our life with, and touch.
The mother of a family we know had to move to a nursing home due to Alzheimer’s disease. This is a difficult and scary transition under normal circumstances. Social distancing made it a whole lot worse.
Because for 6 months, no one was allowed to visit her. And after six months, the family could only see her from a distance, wearing masks, so she couldn’t recognize anyone! This situation was devastating for all.
Socially distant Christmas
Every year, families go to shopping centers and department stores to take photos of their kids with Santa Claus. Santa and the kids hug and exchange whispers and everybody gets really emotional.
This year, the kids could not sit on Santa’s lap. It was sad to see them sitting 1.5 meters away from him. Kids don’t really get all the restrictions. They follow the rules, but taking photos with Santa is no longer fun. It’s dangerous.
Instead of holiday cheer, Christmas photos mostly show fear.
I worry that COVID-19 will start an emotional pandemic of people being afraid of one another and avoiding touch altogether. This will only increase the disconnection.
In Australia, the Coronavirus death toll was very low. Still, some of our friends panic about meeting and touching people. They isolate themselves at home to avoid any physical contact with others.
In my opinion, this fear is the real pandemic.
My 8-year-old nephew refused to invite 4 friends to play in his back yard on his birthday, because he was afraid to die. He said, “We will die if we play together”.
He goes to school every day with 30 other kids and they’re not allowed to play with a ball outside, so and he’s scared of dying. His mom and others have explained to him that he already spends time with his friends at school and that the restrictions allow gatherings of 10 people. But that didn’t help.
His fear of dying was so strong and so real he got no comfort from their explanation. Imagine what this would do to his ability to connect in the future. Think how much healing he would need to go through to feel connected again.
He’s 8 years old and he’s afraid of other people!
While hugs are the best way to connect, simple touch would be a good compromise. At least until we can build the trust again. My nephew needs to trust life and our friends need to trust the world to be safe. They must stop believing that every person who gets close to them is risking their life.
Virtual hug day
This year, in 2021, we must celebrate touch and hugs in a different way. First, we have to hug our families and the people we spend a lot of time with more, to compensate for all the lost connections. Second, we can do it virtually, so we don’t risk ourselves or others.
The most important thing to do this year is to celebrate hugs no matter what. Because it’s not just the physical touch that counts. It’s also the caring for each other that comes with it. It’s the act of connecting with each other that matters.
So, this year, let’s beat the Coronavirus and hug more. If there are people around us and there’s no risk, hug longer.
Make a conscious decision to hug your family and the friends you see often. Hug them when you meet them and when you say goodbye to them.
When connecting with people virtually, send them a virtual hug. Finish your voice/video chats and your emails with “hugs”.
Because hugs are healing. And with this pandemic, we all need more healing than ever.