“I just need a hug right now”. It’s hard enough to ask for one of those under normal circumstances, especially if you’re a strong and independent type who is normally the one helping others. Asking virtually when no one is quite sure what the etiquette and new ways of engagement are is even harder.
A few years ago, I was struck by a statement by Nick Vujicic who was born with phocomelia (no arms and no legs). After a suicide attempt because of how bleak his life felt, he realised: “I may not have hands to hold my wife's hands, but I don't need hands to hold her heart. That's what I'm gonna hold.” Today, he’s married with four children and inspires teenagers (and adults) to overcome their insecurities.
The good feelings that comes from a hug are linked to oxytocin and dopamine release. When a mother breastfeeds, the oxytocin release helps her bond with her child, for example. Loving-kindness and compassion meditation as well as self-soothing talk – which you can do alone - have a similar neurochemistry and effect.
You may not be able to hold someone in your arms but you can hold space for their experience and soothe them.
Here are 3 suggestions that can help reproduce the oxytocin and dopamine effect of a hug and hopefully start replenishing our connection ecosystem in the new world:
Virtual hug option 1: The heart hug
Both of you put your hand on your heart area (invite the other person to do it, too, if you’re the one giving the hug) and sit for a moment in silence. It’s uncomfortable and awkward to start with, but that’s the cost of a hug these days – the good stuff is on the other side of the discomfort. A heart has to break a little (tension has to release) before it opens up properly to connect, and most of our hearts are struggling right now. But closing shop is not the answer.
Virtual hug option 2: The brain hug
Express empathy, acknowledge the deeper experience (“I can imagine that feels incredibly tough. I’m here if you want to talk”). Use your prefrontal cortex to speak simple wisdom with kindness and activate theirs. A simple, compassionate acknowledgement and offer of support can touch someone’s heart and shift their day in an instant.
Virtual hug option 3: The electronic hug
This is the easiest to do and hardest to master. We’re called to use electronic tools increasingly. We’re involved in streams of chat. Giving a simple thumbs up in the chat either in writing or a well-timed and well-chosen emoji (used sparingly and sincerely) can give the other person the transformational dopamine release they need. Just make it sincere. No need to use a million emojis where one will do 🙂.
We give and want hugs because hugging is a potent way of evoking belonging/connection as well as safety/comfort. We hug when we are happy and when we are sad.
Yesterday, we had a test Zoom webinar with the Royal Society of Arts (an organisation working for 21st Century enlightenment). We launched a series of sense-making conversations on the current situation and how to move forward with 35 others Fellows. Connection was the key theme that emerged organically.
Without physical connection, it seems we’re missing a vital piece on our connection chessboard. Yes, the social fabric of our lives has been disrupted. And, yes, we can find new ways to recreate it.
p.s. Join us for The Navigation Session this evening with Heroine’s Journey this evening at 8pm UK as we explore how to turn uncertainty into possibility. Here’s the Zoom link (https://zoom.us/j/441957414) or find out more here. It’s open to all self-identified women.