The science of hugs, and how we miss them during the pandemic

Richard Reeve
Updated: September 16, 2020 10:25 PM
Created: September 16, 2020 09:56 PM

In this time of pandemic safe-distancing, you may have noticed something missing in your life.


"I think just physically, you need that hug,” says Georgi Majeski, from Hastings. “And emotionally, you need that hug.”

Ironic, because experts say hugs are actually good for you, triggering a chemical reaction that decreases stress and makes us feel better.

“It makes you feel happy,” says Majeski’s husband, Jeff. “Does a lot for your whole self-esteem. Your soul. And you just feel the love from another person when you get that hug.”

From babies hugging babies to those pivotal moments in our lives— graduation, a homecoming for military members, or even a family gathering during the holidays— it’s almost like hugs are in our DNA.

“Because you have that beautiful feeling inside, and it helps you feel connected to people,” says Dr. Kelsey Scampoli, a psychologist with M Health Fairview.

Of course, there’s family and other people in one's bubble.

But in our safe-distancing, ‘masked-up’ society— it can feel like a hug desert out there.

“It’s hard ‘cos (sic) I always forget,” says Comfort Taye of Blaine, out shopping with her children. “I forget that it’s COVID, and we shouldn’t be hugging. Once I see my family and friends, my first instinct is to want to hug them.”

It turns out, most of us aren’t getting our daily dose of hugs.

"Some research shows we would prefer touch over food,” Scampoli says.

She says hugging releases the hormone oxytocin.

Some people call it ‘the love chemical.’

"When we have increased oxytocin, we're bonded to people, we're more generous,” Scampoli notes. “We have a better psychological well-being. Our stress is better. But right now it's harder to get that higher oxytocin when we can't touch."

But being safe can be agonizing.

Just ask the Majeski’s, who have concerns beyond the pandemic, about their son, Jacob.   

"I have to be hopeful, especially with our son,” Georgi says quietly. "He is at stage-four colon cancer. Colorectal cancer, he's 39. And it's really hard not to be able to hug him. This is the second time he's had cancer in three years."

Scampoli believes one secret weapon in these difficult, hug-less times, can be empathy.

“With that increase in empathy, your oxytocin can increase, because you're connected with that person,” she says.

Even a simple photograph can trigger a dose of Oxytocin.  

"Think about the happy feelings,” Scampoli says. “Try to remember what it was like to be there, and get the benefits of looking at the photo."

Even a kind conversation between you and a neighbor can release oxytocin, she adds.

There’s a reason why we hear the phrase ‘photographs and memories’ and why looking at them makes us feel better.

For many, including the Majeski’s, there is always hope.

For tomorrow—  and the many days that follow.

Good medicine for the body and the soul, one might say, in these pandemic times.

"I know that someday we'll get to that point, where we can hug again,” Georgi says.

Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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