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The future of hugs post-COVID, according to a professional cuddler

In the COVID-19 world of (extremely) limited physical contact, how do those people who are always coming in for a hug feel? And, for the rest of us, what will post-pandemic hugs look like?

Will people immediately run back into each other’s arms? Will we squeeze a little bit tighter? Or is this the start of a tradition of awkward but socially responsible foot taps instead?

Over the past few months, the rules of physical distancing have been drilled into our minds. We stand 1.5 metres apart, there are limits on how many people can fit into a social space (i.e. the pub) and commuting is a bit desolate.

The very idea of hugging strikes as a strange invasion of personal space these days.

And, who knows when will we even be able to slide back into casually cuddling again, even one of those weird, one-armed side-hugs (does that sound good right now? Maybe).

Hugging is important for your health

The truth is though, as humans, we need hugs.

Professional cuddle therapist Bethany Heap predicts hugs will come back in full force, especially once a vaccine for coronavirus is found because physical touch is vital to overall wellbeing.

“Cuddling, hugs, and touch, in general, play an important role in helping us be healthy human beings,” she says.

“The first act from birth is to have a baby placed in mum (or dad’s) arms – we are embraced the moment we arrive in the world. Before we can speak, we hug to show love. Beyond infancy, for most children, cuddles continue to play a vital role in love, support and belonging. As we grow past our teens and into adulthood, we tend to get fewer cuddles – and life starts getting a little more intense at this stage.

“Realistically, adulthood should be when the cuddle dose gets upped because adulting can really suck sometimes.”

Being in close proximity to another person — or even a cat or dog — feels good (even for introverts) because the interaction is a natural stress reliever, Heap says, and it even relieves anxiety and strengthens the immune system.

“From a scientific perspective, cuddling releases oxytocin, aka the ‘cuddle hormone.’ When this hormone is released into the body, it promotes calmness, security and reduces stress hormones.

“Studies have shown that a good cuddle can alleviate pain, reduce anxiety, increases immunity, promotes calm thereby allowing for better sleep and can lower the risk of heart-related issues (for example, blood pressure, heart disease).”

That said, it’s OK to go without hugs for a few months since keeping your distance during a pandemic will always outweigh the benefit of physical contact.

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Cuddling during COVID-19

A self-confessed “hugger”, Heap says that becoming a cuddle therapist was just a natural extension of her work as a therapist and resonated with her desire to offer comfort to people.

“Cuddles convey so much to people. It doesn’t matter whether you’re greeting people, supporting, congratulating, consoling or bonding with them over a joke or something – there’s a hug for all of it,” she explains.

Although Heap hasn’t been able to provide in-person cuddle sessions during lockdown, per government regulations, her clients are still reaching out for other forms of interaction. “I offer a few other treatments that observe social distancing rules, so I’ve tried to provide comfort using those methods instead. Clients are waiting for cuddles as soon as we are back in action, though!”

The future of cuddling

After everything that has come to light due to the pandemic – how quickly germs spread, how vital good hygiene is – you might wonder whether there’s a future for professional cuddling, despite its benefits.

Heap believes people will need more cuddles post-pandemic and also that this will relate to the lessons we have learnt from COVID-19.

“I think people will need more cuddles after the pandemic,” she says. “I’ve had several new enquiries from people during lockdown and I have clients waiting for professional cuddlers to become available again. I think forced isolation has made people crave more interaction.

“Hopefully, as a society, we’ve lost the “soldier on” mentality and people will be given space to start resting and recovering from illnesses before they interact with others and be more mindful of hygiene practises every day.”

It’s not a perfect replacement for physical touch, but we can all emulate warmth and help each other feel less alone until the day comes when it’s possible to enjoy hugs again in all forms, from long cuddles to quick embraces, and everything in between.