"Talk to your friends, hug your families or partners and keep pets close and cared for. Anything to preserve a sense of compassion and warmth." Photo credit: Cody Byrne

One of the most basic edicts of interpersonal relationships is touch: expression through physical contact and the exchange of tidings, pleasantries, affection and trust.

Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University of Indiana conducted studies in 2009 that found the value of touch went beyond a simple extension of body language. He described it as a “nuanced, sophisticated, and precise way to communicate emotions.”

During the pandemic we have seen the shifting of almost every social paradigm we have come to know. Under the protocols of social distancing, we have begun to trade intimacy for security out of fear and uncertainty. Signs of affection have simplified to insure minimum contact. Instead of a pat on the back or a handshake, we settle for waves and elbow bumps.

Our desire to keep ourselves and others safe can lead us to unwittingly sacrifice the support of friends, colleagues and loved ones. As Zoom, Facetime and social media slowly replace physical encounters, we begin to understand the necessity of the human connection.

Let’s take a hug, for instance. The simple act of hugging is scientifically proven to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and even high-risk factors of heart disease such as high blood pressure.

According to a study published by Harvard Health in 2014, affectionate physical contact can boost the body’s production of beneficial chemicals such as oxytocin – a hormone that can effectively reduce pain, relax muscles and stabilize mood; among other benefits.

An article by Scientific America shows that even the World Health Organization identifies social networks as a primary determinant of health. The lack of these connections opens us up to threats to our overall well-being.

Without regular opportunities to be people, our production of beneficial chemicals slows, we begin to feel isolated, trapped and even confused. Autonomic functions are affected, eating and sleeping habits change. Our desire to explore and discover narrows through the restrictions of our shared confinement.

As the pandemic rolls on, we must be able to look forward to a return to trust and togetherness.

But how will we get back?

First and foremost, we have to stay in touch with people now using all the tools we can. Talk to your friends, hug your families or partners and keep pets close and cared for. Anything to preserve a sense of compassion and warmth.

It’s also important to remember that despite the lack of physicality, we still have people behind us. Our nature as humans is to support and nurture others in times of need.

We must also keep in mind that this is only temporary, despite all the feelings otherwise. When the world opens like the first flower from the depths of a long winter, we will have our time in the sun again. We can be certain that the morning will be brighter for each day we spend in darkness.

Do not be discouraged or ruled by fear – instead, find the depths of your inner strength and push with all your might against the coming tide. If you have an ear, a hand, or a thought to lend, never hesitate to do so with the confidence that you have made a difference in the lives of others.