The Power of Touch

I’m not a hugger. Generally I exist in a fairly wide expanse of ‘personal space’ and feel quite content. But this last year of years has brought some surprises – turns out, I miss hugs. Who’d have thought?

Of the five senses, touch is perhaps one of the most forgotten. As soon as we’re born we know that it’s required for our survival (newborns flourish with skin-to-skin contact) and it’s one of the last senses to leave during our last moments. Put simply, touch keeps us alive.

Neuroscience agrees: social touch releases oxytocin and lowers heart rate, reminding our bodies that we are here, reminding our minds that we are not alone.

When I got back from a year of travelling I was catching up with people in a noisy bar (remember that?) and hugged a close friend, one of those hugs that lasts longer than normal and transforms into an embrace. And among the noise and laughter we realised we had started to cry. Something happened in that moment that brought emotion to the surface, and allowed it to break – no words were needed. Cara had gone through a tough time and I had missed her. Simple really.

We make things complicated when they’re not. Reaching out is how we’re made – the unforced trust that children place in those around them when they run towards us with open arms. It’s devastating that the pandemic is taking something so important away: instead of reaching out, we recoil; instead of brushing an eyelash off someone’s cheek, we leave it there.

Lockdown for those who live alone is hard to bear and it’s no surprise that pets have been keeping us going on these dark days and nights. Dogs and cats all over the country have been cuddled like never before.

I wish I could end by saying it’ll all be okay soon, that we’ll be back to close contact and crowded rooms any day now. Maybe the best thing for now is that we are learning lessons, and as ever they are hard-won.

A hand to hold, a stroke of hair, a rest of head on shoulder, all combine to keep us alive and well. I for one can’t wait to wrap my arms around loved ones once more. I took too much for granted. Hugs are brilliant.