Helpful guidelines on hugging while a pandemic persists


We’ve been through a lot of hardship so far this year — and it’s not over yet! You might even say that a hug is in order! Too bad that, right now, they’re in short supply.

A lack of physical contact can actually affect our mental, emotional, and even physical health.

Emily Sattler, who lives in the Midstate, has been missing her family near Philadelphia. “I saw them at Christmas not knowing that I wasn’t going to see them again for seven months!”

Emily has been avoiding visits to her parents and her 95-year old grandmother. She says she couldn’t live with herself if she got them sick. Their compromise has been chatting over Google Meet, which loses some of the magic of being in-person.

Which leads to — what is the importance of physical contact? Namely, a hug?

Kelly Holder, Ph.D. clinical psychologist at Penn State Health, says, “There is evidence that our blood pressure decreases, our heart rate decreases, we have decreases in anxiety, and some associate that with changes in oxytocin and serotonin that happen within us.”

Oxytocin and serotonin are two feel-good chemicals that can be produced by the brain while hugging. But, right now, in order to protect our physical health, we’re challenging our emotional and mental health with fewer hugs.

Dr. Holder has been hearing an outcry from her patients. “Individuals that I work with, who don’t have that, seem like they’re not doing as well. It’s taking them a whole lot more effort to care for their own well being.”

To allay some of the hugless void, Penn State Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Catharine Paules offered some guidelines on safe hugging. An asterisk comes alongside, however, since there is no way to eliminate the risk of transmitting Covid-19 when you hug.

Although to minimize risk:

  • avoid hugging someone who’s sick
  • hug outdoors for a short duration
  • wear a mask and turn your head away

As things are, it’s only air hugs for Emily. When asked what’s first on her list when the pandemic simmers down and she’s able to see family again? “Probably hug!” she laughed.

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