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There have been many notable holes left in our lives since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, but perhaps the biggest one has been the void left by not being able to hug loved ones.
Since the first lockdown in March 2020, the much-loved greeting has turned into a sad wave from afar or an even sadder elbow bump – and people have really felt this absence of touch.
The lack of physical contact with other people can have an impact on mental wellbeing, particularly if you live alone, counselling psychologist Dr Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell previously told HuffPost UK.
They’re clearly important, but if you can’t hug your loved ones for the foreseeable future, can you reap benefits from hugging yourself?
Yes, says author and yoga studio owner Sherry Duquet. “Self-hugging can be immediately beneficial in relieving feelings of anxiety and soothing your nervous system,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“The simple act of wrapping your arms around yourself can help you feel safe, secure and loved. Experiencing even small events – like hugging yourself – that connect you positively to your body will encourage positive self-esteem and that is beneficial for us all.”
Duquet – who authored a children’s book on the topic: Violet the Hugging Octopus – says the act is a free, easy way to express self-care. “It’s also a way to meet your emotional and physical needs. Believing we can only feel nurtured or loved by receiving hugs from others is disempowering and simply not true.
“We all have the innate ability to comfort and love ourselves – and I find that empowering.”
Self-hugging can be used as a self-soothing technique too, adds Gerrilyn Smith, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and yoga practitioner. This is an “important life skill”, which we often learn in infancy.
“Hugs, in particular, are beneficial as they release a cascade of hormones that contribute to wellbeing and our sense of belonging,” says Smith, author of Self Soothing: Coping with Everyday and Extraordinary Stress.
How to give yourself a hug
Sit or stand up tall, reach the crown of your head to the sky, release your shoulders and open your heart. Take in a big deep breath and throw open your arms and open them wide, says Duquet, then wrap them around yourself from side to side.
Grab your own shoulders and tuck your chin towards your chest – and give yourself a full-on hug. Then, open your arms wide with your next big deep breath and start again.
Duquet recommends repeating your hug several times while alternating which arm is on top each time. ”There is no wrong way to self-hug,” she adds. “Not everyone is physically able to open their arms wide or wrap them around themselves, so any variation of the gesture and breath is the right way. It is the acknowledgement of your self-care that matters most.”
Smith says self-hugs could be a useful tool to cope with our lack of contact right now, as those isolating will be experiencing “touch hunger”.
General self-care of your physical being should also be prioritised, she adds: “So, having a daily routine of touching – grooming, for example – but more mindfully, and not rushing it, is vital. As we get depressed this aspect of our routine often gets dropped: we don’t wash, shower, bathe as much. You can see how all that is seen as unnecessary, when in fact it is even more important.”
Being more mindful of drying yourself after a shower, using body lotion and mindfully massaging it into your body will help deal with the touch deprivation you may be experiencing, she suggests.
Duquet, who also uses self-hugging when teaching yoga, says the lack of touch has highlighted our need for connection and belonging as humans.
“It has left many of us feeling alone and lonely,” she says. “Self-hugging is an incredible way to help lessen those feelings while growing confidence in our own ability to soothe, love and take care of ourselves. It is time to get to know ourselves, to love ourselves and to acknowledge that we are enough.”
This new year, we focus on fun, not denial (because we’ve all had enough of that). Follow our month-long plan, with a new ‘Here, Try This’ idea each day, spanning easy ways to engage your body and mind, inspiration for your food and home, and tips for boosting how you feel – inside and out.