When Anthony Cauvin from the UK invented a “cuddle curtain” to hug his quarantined grandmother, whom he was missing terribly, he probably did not expect the whole world to go gaga over it. The video of him hugging his granny through a translucent shower curtain fitted with gloves stirred the internet.
Soon, people from other parts of the world followed, creating similar hugging stations. Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, even tweeted that the shower curtain hugger was “a life-changing invention, as important as the vaccine we are all waiting for.”
In these COVID-19 times, among all the things we could still have, a hug is not one of them.
According to a report published by the American medical research centre, National Institutes of Health (NIH), “interpersonal touch can promote better relationship functioning and individual well-being.”
“I sure miss the hug,” says Kochi-based businessman Rakesh Krishna, who recently bumped into his childhood friend outside his apartment. The two could do nothing but shake their heads to express their joy, owing to the social distancing norms.
“The hug, the handshake, the hi-fives and the fist bumps are so pre-COVID -19. Now, we nod our heads, raise our eyebrows or perhaps just do a little jig to meet and greet a loved one,” says Rakesh. The namaste of course is an option and so is the trending foot hello, but neither comes naturally to him, he says.
“It’s a human thing… to crave for a warm embrace,” says Kochi-based mentalist Arjun Guru, who calls himself a hugger. “I miss the comfort and warmth it leaves you with.” For those who thrive on social interactions, such as Arjun, the lockdown has proved to be even more demanding. “I draw so much from people’s energies. The internet really cannot replace it,” he says.
Built in our bodies
Science has long since proved that a hug can cure the worst of blues. Physical proximity boosts the production of oxytocin, the hormone that lowers stress and anxiety. “Those living alone are the worst affected,” says clinical psychologist Gitanjali Natarajan.
Part of the team of psychologists who are volunteering for a tele-counselling helpline, she says, a number of calls received are of emotional troubles brought on by loneliness. “Anxiety and panic attacks seem to be the most common issues. Though these people know their families or loved ones are safe, their physical absence is a source of anxiety.” Touch from a loved one has a calming effect on a person, she adds.
Recently, Switzerland declared it safe for children under 10 to hug their grandparents, provided that the hugs are brief. The World Health Organization, however, is exploring if more research is needed to understand the role of children in the spread of the virus.
- Indians may not be as demonstrative of our affection as Westerners, and our social interactions are not really centred around the physical touch, says Gayathri Asokan, author and wellness instructor. “Our ancestors believed in an aura that surrounds each person, which needed to be preserved,” says Gayathri. She believes compassion, love and emotion can be expressed even without physical contact. She recommends meditation and emotional cleansing exercises that could be undertaken to start life afresh post lockdown.
Nuthan Manohar, founder of Me Met Me, an organisation that conducts workshops on well-being and research, recommends getting a pet to beat the blues. Even getting a plant and tending to it could make a difference, she says. “A lot of people are fostering animals during this lockdown. The internet is still there. You could connect with all your friends and relatives online. Make do with virtual hugs for now,” she says. It may be best to use technology that involves eye contact.
The pandemic is indeed an interesting period to observe and understand how human beings evolve and adapt, says Krishna Kumar, CEO of a Kochi-based strategic consulting firm and author of Between Genes and Memes — Life Beyond Hunts, Harvests and Hashtags , a book on philosophy.
“While on the one hand we sorely miss physical contact, we have realised that one can have meaningful virtual relationships. We now realise the value of the same people whom we once took for granted. While we say people get depressed due to social distancing, there is a number of people who might be feeling better since the lockdown, as the competition suddenly seems to have ended. It is all about how you look at it. We have got time to re-prioritise and realign life,” he says.