“To touch can be to give life” Michelangelo
The photo above brings about a lot of emotions for me. I was so happy in this photo, holding my niece’s hand, showing each other affection with very few words…taking for granted the power of touch.
- Think of a walking into a job interview and shaking the hand of the interviewer on the other side of the table
- A high school basketball game ending with two exhausted teams lined up, running past each other, slapping hands and yelling, “Good game!”, to show their sportsmanship
- You gently offering your hand to the old woman who stumbles as she steps down off the city bus
- High fiving the stranger jumping up and down cheering next to you at the baseball game when your team scores a run
- Or one I can personally relate to: Touching all of those stretched out hands at mile 16, 17 or 18 of a marathon as people scream “YOU GOT THIS!” and extend their hands as a sign of support to cheer on complete strangers.
Did all of those scenarios make you cringe because lately we have all been dousing our hands in hand sanitizer and have been singing “Happy Birthday” to ensure we are washing our hands for the full 20 seconds the CDC requires?
Physical touch is not always welcome and not always appropriate depending on the situation, but study after study show the healing benefits of positive touch. And it’s something most of us are lacking these days.
For many years premature infants were touched minimally to minimize risk of infection. However, many studies show that touch not only comforts these infants, but also are seen to gain 50% more weight per day than untouched babies. Science Daily says when infants are given more “supportive touch” such as skin-to-skin contact, it is extremely beneficial and a critical building block of infant learning.
“Juan Mann” started the controversial Free Hugs campaign in London in 2016, whose sole mission was to offer hugs to strangers to spread a little joy. Juan went back to his hometown to find that his friends and family had moved. He was missing his family and to spread a bit of cheer [and to cheer himself up] he stood in public with a sign that said “Free Hugs”. His first hug took an agonizing 15 minutes to receive, but he said, “This one lady came up and gave me a hug and it was really, really worth it”. From that first hug, his campaign was born and has now spread across the world.
Prior to COVID-19, experts have expressed concern that as physical touch becomes more strictly regulated, we are less and less likely to engage in social acts such as hugging, or even shaking hands. And now that we are experiencing social distancing and are encouraged to keep 6 feet apart from anyone we don’t reside with, will this change the way we interact forever?
I read an article recently on www.bbc.com titled “Will COVID-19 end the handshake?” In a time when so many of us are missing that physical connection (studies show that positive touching stimulates our orbitofrontal cortex) I’m fearful that because of the coronavirus, we will become a society that is going to fear any type of physical touch.
As our world is practicing social distancing right now, we are not holding marathons where supporters can extend their hand to touch runners, we are not playing basketball games and we are not holding signs offering free hugs to strangers…but it’s not only strangers we are distancing ourselves from, it’s our friends and family as well. I’ve seen post after post on Facebook and Instagram about how people are longing for the moment they can hug their friends and loved ones again soon.
I have a dear friend who suddenly lost her husband just over a year ago. I was with her the moment she found out about his death and something that will never escape my mind is feeling her body melt into mine as we embraced and fell to the ground with our arms wrapped around each other.
For the next (who knows how long, it could have been five minutes or an hour) I said nothing to her and just hugged her. There were no words I could say in that moment that could have been anymore powerful than my touch and letting her feel a connection with someone while she was trying to process the worst news of her life.
Having gone through so much transition, pain, hurt and change in the past year and a half, I’m not sure what I would have done during that time if I wasn’t able to receive as well as give physical touch, to/from my friends and family. I have experienced that when there is nothing to say to someone going through grief or a challenging time, a simple hug, a touch on the arm, a fist pump or a high five to show your empathy or support can be life changing.
I’m very excited to give my friends and family hugs again, to shake the hand of a stranger that I meet at a networking event, put my hand on someone’s shoulder when they are concerned, and to high five the marathon supporters as I run past them. However, as I visualize all of those scenarios, I begin to question: Will it be welcomed? Will it be accepted or even allowed? The answer, none of us know.
This world is going to be changed in so many ways by this pandemic, but I truly, truly hope we can all figure out a way for us to physically connect again, to embrace again and to express and embrace what comes naturally to us from the time we are babies.
Human touch is such a powerful thing!
If you’re longing for that connection today, I’m sending you a virtual hug!
Remember, You Got This!