Hugging might soon be allowed, but not everyone is looking forward to it

Two friends hugging in a restaurant
11:13am, Mon 10 May 2021
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The health benefits of hugs are well documented – they have the potential to boost your mental health and even improve self-esteem – and you can’t deny how brilliant hugging a loved one feels.

Particularly after so long with restrictions in place, you can understand why so many people in England are desperate to get to May 17 – the next major date in the road map, when Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggests physical contact between friends and family will be allowed.

The restrictions on hugging have already been lifted in Wales, and Scotland and Ireland are likely to follow soon.

The prospect of having hugs back is exciting – but like so many things over the past year, it’s likely the pandemic has changed our approach to hugging. The question is: how?

Hugs might not always be the default

Pre-pandemic, hugs were the go-to way to greet anyone – friends, family, and even colleagues. But now, hugs might not be quite so ubiquitous.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One positive is the pandemic has expanded our ways to greet each other – an elbow bump is a great way to say a friendly hello, without having to get quite so close as a hug.

People who didn’t like hugging pre-pandemic might also be breathing a sigh of relief. Our public consciousness around touching each other has shifted, and it’s arguably now more socially acceptable to skip a hug if you want to.

Some people might want to be asked first

It’s important to remember everyone is on their own journey as we come out of lockdown – the English government might be giving physical contact the green light, but some people might still be feeling a bit nervous. Maybe they’re waiting until they’re fully vaccinated, or just need a bit more time to get to grips with these new restrictions – everyone’s on their own timeline, and that’s OK.

As with anything in life, consent is key. Perhaps asking someone before hugging will become the social norm – or we’ll become more attuned to non-verbal signals suggesting whether someone is ready for physical contact or not.

People will likely be out of practice

It’s been so long since we’ve been able to give out hugs willy nilly, and like any social muscle, it will probably feel a bit rusty. Work out what you feel comfortable with, ease yourself back into ‘normal’ life, and – if you want to – you’ll be back hugging in no time.

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