How to Manage When You Are Missing Hugs

I have had many conversations with people about what they are looking forward to when social distancing measures are lifted. Hugs are high on the list for many of my single contacts, especially the deep squeezes that last a long time. This makes sense. Hugs are quick, simple ways of social regulation. And a long, deep hug is one of the few ways that two dysregulated people can regulate each other. Most forms of social regulation require one person in the group to maintain their emotional regulation in the face of other people’s dysregulation, which is why emotional drama tends to escalate.

What can we do to meet our needs if we are craving hugs and committed to physical separation?

The first thing to do is identify what underlying needs were being met by hugs.

There are two likely physiological possibilities:

  • Deep pressure stimulation that soothes proprioceptive anxiety
  • Oxytocin release that increases a sense of belonging

Hugs may also serve to fulfill psychological needs usually around feeling worthy, loveable, accepted, and included. Meeting these needs releases oxytocin. 

Once you have identified the needs that are underlying your craving, you can find alternatives to breaking social distancing to meet those same needs.  If the needs are physiological, there are things you can do for yourself to meet those needs.  If the needs are psychological, you may need help and this would be a good time to work with a therapist on how you see yourself or with a coach on building relationship skills.

Proprioceptive anxiety occurs when you don’t have a solid internal sense of where you end and the world around you begins. Deep pressure soothes this anxiety.

Deep pressure also releases oxytocin and creates a sense of being loved, held, and embraced. A 30-second hug meets this need.  

Deep-pressure solves both issues.

If you are missing hugs, the most important thing to do is find alternative forms of deep pressure that work for you.

One simple thing you can try is giving yourself a great big self-hug and squeeze.  For some people, this creates a very reassuring sense of self-love. For others, giving themselves a hug when they want the hug from others brings up difficult emotions and a need for psychological support. And for others, it varies.

Other options include:

  • Wrapping yourself up tightly in a blanket or robe.
  • A weighted blanket, vest, or lap pad
  • Pressing your back against a wall
  • Pushing into a wall like you are trying to push it over
  • Physical work – lifting, pulling, pushing, etc – gardening and chores
  • Rolling a ball over your body 
  • Tapping your skin
  • Self-massage
  • Warm baths
  • Weighted heat therapy pads

If you are isolated and craving physical connections, add some of these techniques to your day. Social connections through phone, text, and video conferencing can help us manage our psychological needs for connection and belonging, but they cannot provide the deep pressure our bodies also need.