Hugs and smiles are human

Dear COVID, please return our humanity

You’ve taken two of our most precious things away.

Not sure about you, but Covid’s making me feel a bit like a hapless spider caught in a spider’s web. Woven into the sticky strands that bind is a dollop of fearmongering, scepticism, fake news and conspiracy theories.

These are days and situations far beyond our control and understanding. It’s the oddest of times.

Like androids, we try to mutely follow the instructions of the day – and scowl or tut tut behind our face masks at those who disobey.

Keep your social distance. 

Wear a face covering at all times when in public. 

Wash your hands frequently. 

Stay at home as much as possible. 

You may be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed in a twilight zone where everything is so familiar. Yet so alien.

We’re not sure what to believe or whom to trust.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO (the World Health Organisation), sums it up perfectly:   
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

For all this, COVID-19 has much to answer. But more than anything, there are two things I cannot ever forgive this pandemic for.

Outlawing human contact

I watched a TV programme the other morning that made me unbearably sad. A charming old man who has been married for 60 years has not been able to visit his wife in a care home for the past six months. 

His wife has dementia. She’s lost in a sea of well-meaning and kind strangers. He’s not sure whether his wife will even remember him when next he visits. He used to visit every day. Take her for lunch or drives sometimes. Build jigsaw puzzles with her. Touch her, hug her, love her, get glimpses of the wonderful woman she used to be.

Now he can’t go near her. The insurance companies won’t cover COVID-19 so the care homes can’t take the risk of anyone getting infected.

The workers at the care home are allowed in to come and go. They go home to their families. They shop for food, catch public transport, go about their daily lives as far as they can in these strange days. But the loved ones have to stay away. 

Sad beyond words.

These two things make us human and vital

Two of the most human qualities we have and enjoy are hugging and smiling. And both of those have been abruptly curtailed. Cancelled. Confiscated … 

To hug a friend or a loved one now could mean a death sentence. 

And with faces being covered for most of the time you are away from home, how do you tell if someone is smiling – or pulling a tongue at you – beneath that fancy face mask?

We NEED hugs

Hugs are good for you. They reduce stress. They may protect you against illness. They boost your heart health. They make you happier. They reduce your fears.  Hugs help you communicate and can even reduce your pain. Family therapist, Virginia Satir,  claims:
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” 
Honestly, I’m surprised it isn’t more?

And a world without smiles?

Smiling is more contagious than any virus – anywhere. With everyone covered up with face masks, it’s hard to judge what’s going on under there? I know they say eyes are the window to the soul. But although they may crinkle up with mirth, eyes can’t actually smile.

And just like hugging, smiling is unbelievably good for you. And very, very necessary. 

We’re told it releases all the “natural high” neurotransmitters – endorphins and serotonin. With these big boys in your bloodstream, you feel good all over. They make you relaxed and truly reduce pain. 

So there you have it. Smiling is the best natural drug you can get.

In the final analysis ...

Six months and more down the line, we still don’t seem to have the answers. Or when the vaccine will be available. Or if we should have it?

When the COVID dust finally settles … and with the privilege of hindsight, we have to question and face the fallout of what losing these two vital interactions has cost us.

Or for some, is it worth dying for?

Covid has cut off human connections

PS – Sometimes the best form of defense is protection. Read Could this be your secret weapon against Covid