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We miss hugs. But while it’s our natural way of connecting, we have to pass during this pandemic


By Maridith Yahl
Special to KyFoward

During this pandemic, there has been little to no physical contact, except for those we have quarantined with. We miss hugs.

Having a “connection between humans is a natural thing. Most people, with a few exceptions, want to connect to other people and what way we do that is through touch,” says Karen Byerly-Lamm, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor (LPCC-S), Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, who is in private practice in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood, and an adjunct faculty psychology professor at Xavier University. She lives in Villa Hills.

“If you think back to our early origins of childhood, the first thing that your mom or caregiver does is they hold you, they hug you. When you are born, you are laid on your mom’s chest, in her arms. She is hugging you,” says Byerly-Lamm. It is that safety and security thing.

Here in the United States, says Byerly-Lamm, hugs are different.

Karen Byerly-Lamm

“It’s our way of connecting with other people.”

We hug parents, friends, a person you have not seen in a long time, or some people hug when they do not even know you.

“Hugs are our connection; they’re our way of showing many things. It’s love. We hug when we love someone. We hug when we’re comforting someone. We hug when we’re trying to give support to someone,” says Byerly-Lamm.

Recently The New York Times wrote about safe ways to hug during the pandemic. Ideas included wearing a mask, hug outdoors, point your face in opposite directions, not talk or cough when hugging, and to do it quickly, not to linger.

But, Laurie Brinson, MEd., CHES, Public Health Impacts Administrator at the Northern Kentucky Health Department says, “The absence of physical touch can be difficult, but in order to reduce the risk of COVID, we shouldn’t do anything unless we’re six feet apart and wearing a mask.”

Byerly-Lamm says hugs bond us.

“To share a hug with a friend or somebody that you really love is an amazing experience,” she says. “We have gone through this long period without seeing friends and family. Now that we are getting out, we are taught to ‘social distance.’ I heard someone talking about how we shouldn’t call it social distancing, we should call it physical distancing because you don’t want to lose sight of your social connections when you can’t be physically close,” says Byerly-Lamm.

All of us need to continue to find ways to connect with people however we can to help get through this time. Byerly-Lamm says she has seen a lot of creative ways friends and family have been able to see and talk to each other. She has witnessed or heard about, playing games together on Zoom, FaceTime, birthday parades, and “one night I was out, and I saw people gathering in a parking lot, eating dinner, socially distant. There were two families sitting there but they had their chairs far apart and they were eating pizza.”

Easter was a big holiday to miss being with family and friends. Byerly-Lamm says one family cooked the same meal and ate together on Zoom.

“Finding ways to connect in general is important.”

In this physical distancing, the physical touch is still something that is missing.

“It feels weird, there’s this awkward dance when you are out and see a friend you haven’t in a long time. It’s not as natural as it used to be,” Byerly-Lamm says. But, even giving the sentiment provides good feelings, she says. “Some of my friends and I instead of hugging, we’ll say, ‘air hugs!’ And we’ll use our hands. It says I want to hug you and they’re saying the same thing. It still feels good even though it doesn’t feel the same.”

Karen hugs Joy. It will have to do.

Hugging “evokes all these feelings of warmth and love, positive feelings.”

But we still cannot hug, and those sheltering alone still do not have a person to hug.

Byerly-Lamm suggests using imagery. She says to close your eyes and imagine a time when you were being hugged, a significant, special moment that prompts those warm and fuzzy feelings. Picturing those moments can evoke these or similar feelings, she says.

Another way to get those good feelings are pets touted as wonderful therapy. For some stuffed animals can do that too.

“Something soft, cozy, and fuzzy to just hug, hold when you are feeling sad,” she says. Some people like weighted blankets, giving the sensation of a full-body hug. That sense of hug gives relief.

Overall, Byerly-Lamm says to “try to remain as connected to the people we care about as much we can.”

When a vaccine becomes available, Byerly-Lamm hopes we will go back to what we called normal. She does not believe that our whole society will change.

“I don’t think people are ever going to not want to hug each other,” although it may be some time before we are comfortable with it again. Hugging is natural, human nature, and it feels good.

“There is just something releasing about hugging,” says Byerly-Lamm.

Maridith Yahl reports on health issues for the Northern Kentucky Tribune thanks to a grant from Report for America, with support from the GroudTruth Project, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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