As humans, we crave unity and connection. Regardless of the issue, whether due to a physical distance or an ideological one, each one of us wants peace within ourselves, our families, our communities, and our greater world.
In this era, we’re suffering from pain, after already being depleted as a touch-deprived society. We remain in the thick of a global pandemic, trying to unite on important issues after months of social distancing, increased anxiety, and huge economic uncertainty. I spoke to my children’s pediatrician who told me that she had read that 40% of our children are experiencing symptoms of PTSD since the beginning of Shelter in Place. This is a shocking statistic.
Because touch affects how we learn, respond to people, and process difficult experiences, leveraging it to move away from violence and racism will help us begin listening deeper, feel more empathy, and open the door to growth and change.
For example, we’re seeing the effects of hugs and handshakes changing the tone in real life. Even for brief moments, this is a great start for healing. Moreover, handshakes and hugs are shown to lower stress, build bonds, and promote agreement. Physical affection calms the sympathetic nervous system and regulates the stress-releasing hormones, encouraging relaxation, and fighting anxiety. It can convey messages of safety, and love, and tell us that we are not alone.
Plain and simple, these emotional gestures move the needle away from division, sew people together, and repair discord.
In this NY Times article, some experts spell out some astute ways to hug while minimizing the risk of catching any virus. Essentially, the key is to avoid hugging face to face even while wearing a face mask. Most hugs last under 10 seconds, so the brevity reduces the risk of transmission, as does practicing distancing when not hugging. The risk is low, the researchers have said, but the decision is ultimately yours.
For those preferring to refrain from physical touch, air hugging, elbow bumping, or kicking feet still elicit similar feelings by encouraging engagement and showing that you care. Bring in some fun, silliness, and laughter — we could all use a heavy dose of joy these days!
Small gestures of kindness, like offering to pick groceries or a drink, facilitate an extension of self, a giving notion that is received as an exchange of connection, care, and bonding. The giver gains just as much, if not more, than the receiver.
Even visualizations of joining together can have a powerful effect.
For the last three months, I’ve hosted weekly community support meetings with my colleagues to help bring facilitate connection during this turbulent time. To start the meeting off, I ask everyone to join me in a brief meditation and as part of that, I invite everyone to imagine that we are in a circle, holding hands, sitting aside one another, to create a virtual closeness. While imaginative, this practice brings closeness.
Keeping the motive on healing, unity, connection, and support, recruit whatever method works to reach out and touch someone else. Let’s get out there and strengthen bonds!