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The Hug Will Survive

by on April 14, 2020 5:00 AM

 

I am a serial hugger. It’s partly an extrovert thing, partly an Italian thing, and it’s definitely a Battista family thing. I simply enjoy embracing other people as a sign of affection, respect and friendship.I have science on my side to back up the amazing positive impact of sincere and heartfelt physical touch, especially in the form of the hug.

During these unprecedented times, I am especially experiencing a hug deficit. Pardon the wordplay, but we are in the midst of a bear market for hugging. Aside from your spouse, significant other, immediate family and those you are sheltered in place with, the hug is currently under quarantine too.

Alas, I suspect it will be sometime before it will be acceptable, outside of the aforementioned small group of those closest to us, to embrace one another. The question is, will the hug survive the pandemic, or will it become a societal no-no? I am of the opinion that in the long-run, the hug will survive, and it may be needed more than ever once we figure out the solution to the COVID-19.

Will there be a reluctance to hug? There is no doubt in my mind that even those who don’t consider themselves to be germaphobes will think twice before hugging someone or even shaking hands for that matter. Will it be temporary?I certainly hope so.

The science backs up the need to hug others.  According to an October 3, 2018 Time magazine article by Jamie Ducharme, “Science Says You Should Embrace Hugging,” researchers at Carnegie Mellon suggest “that physical touch can prompt beneficial physiological changes, such as reductions in stress-related brain and heart activity and the release of the mood-enhancing hormone oxytocin.” Googling “The science behind the benefits of hugging” led me to a significant number of research-based benefits of the hug. That simply confirmed what common sense and experience has already taught me.

Growing up in a close-knit Italian family where hugs were not optional, they were expected, it simply became a part of my DNA. When my father’s baseball and softball teams would win big games, tournaments and championships, guys would start to run after the final out knowing he was going to come sprinting out of the dugout to overwhelm them with a hug. Guys may not have understood it at the time, but as tough as my father could be as a coach, he celebrated success as well as anyone I have ever seen. I believe the vast majority of his former players would look back on those days fondly.

The players I have coached over the years can probably relate as the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. It didn’t even roll. I still get emotional when I see former hockey teammates and players and it is always a sign of affection and camaraderie when I embrace them. I know it was sometimes awkward for those who were more private, introverted and not used to their emotionally charged coach always dishing out an embrace. I hope that they all understand now why I was a serial hugger. The thing I still miss the most from coaching is the relationships with the players: being in that locker room and sharing a big victory, a championship or helping each other through the tough losses.

There are of course, many different types of hugs. The bear hug, the bear hug with a lift, the sneak up from behind hug, the chest bump, the half chest bump, the etiquette hug, the lift and twirl hug, the side hug and many more. There are hugs of pure joy, hugs of concern, hugs of grief, hugs of celebration and the loving embrace hug. 

It’s just human nature.

I do have one pet peeve that I want to share in this “hug-less” time. We need to stop calling it “social distancing.” It’s physical distancing we are practicing!  We need social interaction now more than ever to help each other get through this time of uncertainty. That social interaction can take several forms including the growing use of Zoom and other versions of web-based video conferencing. No access to the internet? Use the old-fashioned phone call. Yes, that digital device is called a smartphone for a reason. Don’t just text. Call and talk to family, friends, classmates, and colleagues.  At a minimum, sit down and pen a letter to someone.

Rex Miller is a best-selling author, mentor and friend and he is one of a growing entourage of experts calling for this small but significant change in how we look at the current order to engage in “social distancing.” It is common sense in many respects but why not make it as clear as possible. People need each other more now than ever. Words matter. 


Heidi Battista hugs the family dog, Barkley

Besides hugging each other, my wife and I still have one source of hugs that provides unconditional love and brings an immediate smile to our faces. Our dog, Barkley, gives the most lovable and joyful hugs to brighten our day. He’s been a source of comfort to us all during the age of coronavirus. He may be a little more tired from all the extra walks and hikes, but he does help us to remember the simple joys in life.

Once we are given the “all clear” sign and feel more comfortable going out and about, please don’t be offended if my natural instinct will be to shake hands or even give you a hug. I likewise will be most understanding if you give me the sign, verbally or nonverbally, that you would prefer to keep the physical distance even once the “all clear” call is given post-virus.

I, for one, cannot wait for the quarantine on hugs to be lifted. That time will come, and when it does, and if you are a willing recipient, be ready to receive a heartfelt Battista bear hug. 

 



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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