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Free hugs

I don’t mean to be flip, but Covid-19 is messing with my hug game.

I’m a hugger. I love full body, like-you-mean-it hugs. Weak hugs, fake hugs, butt-out hugs? No thanks. And don’t get me started on side hugs and those fist-to-the-chest bro hugs.

Growing up, I use to give “strength hugs” to my Aunt Nina. We’d give each other a BIG squeeze and then pretend we’d just been superpowered. Think Popeye after downing a can of spinach. Now those were hugs.

Could you use a strength hug right now? Thought so. Me too.

It might sound trivial, but the lack of physical contact from social distancing is anything but. Humans need be touched. And not just for pleasure but for basic mental health. It’s especially important in times of physical and emotional distress.

Think about it…

- Hugs are how we give comfort & care, especially when we don’t know what to say

- Touch calms our nervous systems when we’re stressed and anxious

- Oxytocin aka “the bonding hormone” gets released through touch

- And hugs hold us together when we’re grieving because things are falling apart

And let’s be real – we’re all grieving, and some days, barely holding it together. We all need a big hug.

When I work with struggling couples, touch is my go-to. A gently held hand, a softly touched knee, and sometimes a full hug heal wounds that words have made worse for years.

In counseling with my ex-husband, Kevin, our therapist (god bless her) used to joke “Shut the Buck up.” No doubt you’d be shocked to learn that I talk a lot. But talking wasn’t often helpful in my desire to get closer to my partner.

Instead of more words, she’d ask Kevin to place his hand on my leg or over my heart. Almost immediately, I’d soften and open up. She’d also have us hold our hugs long enough to exhale and relax our shoulders. We’d calm down. No words needed.

Touch soothes and calms and heals.

When HIV devastated the gay community, men were terrified to have sex. Sex killed, it seemed. Yet human, intimate contact was needed more than ever to begin healing.

Enter Joseph Kramer and his Body Electric School. Joe created sacred, healing spaces for men to experience intimate touch again without the panic of contracting a deadly virus. It was a game changer.

I wonder what game changers will come out of Covid-19. So many possibilities. What if a newfound awareness of social closeness – the need for hugging, physical contact and sacred touch – is one of them? Cool!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at home, and you and your partner or kids are getting on your last gay nerve (everyone has one of these, btw), go for a longer-than-usual hug. Hold each other until you exhale and feel your shoulders drop. It may take a few moments – minutes even. Let it. That’s the point.

And for the singles out there, I know it’s tough. I’m right there with you. For now, it’s all about next best things. As woo as “self touch” sounds, fuck it. Now’s the time.

Try giving yourself a hug. Or place one hand on your heart and one your belly and breathe. Or gently and slowly rub your palms over the tops of your thighs. Prioritize self-touch.

When you’re at your wits end with all this shit, get out of your head. Breath and touch are the magic ingredients. Oh and sweat too. Fun fact - exercise releases oxytocin too!



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