How to Hug During a Pandemic

Health 2020/6/5

How to Hug During a Pandemic

Of the many things we miss from our pre-pandemic lives, hugging may top the list. We asked scientists who study airborne viruses to teach us the safest way to hug. (Eleni Kalorkoti/The New York Times)

A Canadian woman was so desperate to hug her mother during quarantine that she created a “hug glove” using a clear tarp with sleeves so the women could hug through the plastic. A video of two young cousins in Kentucky hugging and weeping after weeks apart in quarantine was shared thousands of times.

“We did not expect for them to react the way they did,” said Amber Collins, who recorded the reunion of her 8-year-old son, Huckston, with his cousin Rosalind Arnett, age 10. “They were so overjoyed they didn’t know how to express themselves, except to cry. This hug shows how powerful the human touch truly is.”

Not only do we miss hugs, we need them. Physical affection reduces stress by calming our sympathetic nervous system, which during times of worry releases damaging stress hormones into our bodies. In one series of studies, just holding hands with a loved one reduced the distress of an electric shock.

“Humans have brain pathways that are specifically dedicated to detecting affectionate touch,” said Johannes Eichstaedt, a computational social scientist and psychology professor at Stanford University. “Affectionate touch is how our biological systems communicate to one another that we are safe, that we are loved and that we are not alone.”

To learn the safest way to hug during a viral outbreak, I asked Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on airborne disease

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