Will kisses, hugs and caresses return with the end of face masks?

Human beings are social beings. We need company and to feel linked, loved and valued. We like to communicate and share emotions and experiences, give and receive affection. And we really appreciate kisses, hugs, handshakes, etc.

Or at least that’s how it was until the covid-19 pandemic came and changed everything. Including displays of affection and physical contact. When SARS-CoV-2 broke out, to prevent and avoid contagion, restrictive measures were enacted such as reducing the number of participants in social gatherings, avoiding and minimizing physical contact, keeping distance from interaction and wearing a mask. With a stroke of the pen, the kisses and hugs were over.

As a consequence, our social-emotional well-being was disturbed. With the pandemic, unpleasant emotions flooded our lives with uncertainty, sadness, fear, angerapathy, frustration, anguish, concern, despair, restlessness… And pleasant emotions such as joycalmness or enthusiasm became more infrequent.

And not only that. Maintaining social distance has had consequences on our brain. It has been shown that lack of social interaction affects reasoning and memorywhile reducing the connectivity of the brain’s white matter and gray matter.

Now that a new one is announced Surveillance and control strategy against the disease that lightens these restrictive measures of interaction, it may be a good time to become aware of the importance that physical contact has on our mental, physical and social health.

“Fur Hungry”

In the last two years we have experienced painful situations such as hospitalizations, social isolation, lonely deaths of loved ones, duels without hugs. But also lack of family and friendly gatherings.

These circumstances have meant that all of us, to some extent, have experienced what is labeled as “skin hunger”, which is nothing other than the need for interpersonal physical contact. We have even suffered feelings of lack of affection and occasional episodes of unwanted loneliness, emotional and social.

What’s more, the pandemic has taken its toll on mental well-being and has had an important psychological impact in the entire population. has grown, say the statistics, the percentage of the population that experienced a feeling of being down or depressed, with problems sleeping and with little interest or joy in doing things. Simultaneously, anxiety, stress and suicidal behaviors have skyrocketed.

Physical contact and the happiness quartet

Physical contact is vital since we are born (skin-to-skin contact with the mother) until the day we die (goodbye hug, caresses…). People have the ability to send, receive and interpret emotional signals through touch.

We need to touch, because it is an excellent way to give and receive affection in a reciprocal way. We are not referring to sensual or sexual behaviors, but to those that occur in relationships with people in the social network of coexistence, in daily interpersonal relationships.

During the covid-19 pandemic, most people have been deprived of handshakes, friendly hugs or pats on the back, which can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion. And they have been replaced by bumping elbows or fists, putting your hand on your heart or joining the palms of your hands in the Indian greeting (namasté). Which, obviously, do not have the same emotional impact.

And there is increasing evidence of the beneficial effects of touch in different aspects:

Biologically, these benefits have to do with the production of certain hormones and neurotransmitters which is called “the happiness quartet”. Namely: endorphin (natural painkiller), serotonin (mood), dopamine (mediator of pleasure) and, especially, oxytocin (hormone of love, hugs and bonds).

Such is the benefit of hugs that they also comfort “altruistic hugs” from strangers, as can be seen in the hugs given to Ukrainians by volunteers. In fact, it is the basis of the solidarity initiative of “Free hugs” (Free Hugs)

Shutterstock / Lestertair

The virtual space is not comparable with the physical encounter

Although parallel to the direct and face-to-face restrictions, there has been a remarkable increase in cyber relations and links on-lineat the moment the virtual space is not comparable with the physical presence.

Technology and virtual reality are advancing with humanoids, avatars, and immersiveness in three dimensions, so it will be necessary to be attentive to what the future brings us. metaverse.

Meanwhile, with the relaxation of the interaction restrictions that are announced in Spain from April 19, we will have the opportunity to recover the lost physical contact. It is true that, as a result of what they have experienced, some people still have reservations about leaving the house and socializing, which has been labeled “cabin syndrome”. There are even those who have developed an irrational fear or phobia of being touched (haphephobia).

Fortunately, it seems that most of us have come out “unscathed” in this regard and are looking forward to socializing with our people.

It would be wonderful if, after the crisis experienced and having become aware of the importance that physical contact has on our well-being, we take special care to appreciate, savor and thank these manifestations. If, from now on, we touch each other being aware of how beneficial a heartfelt hug, a warm handshake, some affectionate kisses or a light caress is for health.

We better not leave for tomorrow the hugs, kisses and caresses that we can give or receive today.

Ines Nuns CasaresHonorary collaborating professor in the Department of Psychology and researcher on Educational Psychology., University of Valladolid

This article was originally published on The Conversation. read the original.

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