One in four adults have not been hugged for more than a year, according to new research, and a third of adults feel there are fewer opportunities to make new connections now than there were during the first lockdown.
The findings are from a poll by the cross-party think tank Demos, which spoke to 1,000 UK adults about their connections with others during the pandemic.
It found that almost two thirds (64%) of respondents said they have not made a new friend for six months, and 44% have not done so in more than a year.
More than a third (37%) reported that they have not been hugged for at least half a year, while 25% said they have not shared a hug for a year or more. Meanwhile 13% said they have not been asked how their day was, or talked to their neighbours, in the past six months or more.
During the first lockdown, we were encouraged to have “virtual hugs” and connect with loved ones online.
But research by Lancaster University recently found that “virtual contact on its own is not beneficial to older adults’ mental health”. It concluded that those over 60 who relied on virtual contact alone felt more lonely than others during the pandemic.
In the midst of lockdown, HuffPost UK asked therapists why we crave human touch – and how to survive without it.
“Touch is part of our life from the very beginning, at birth, and conveys love and care without words,” psychotherapist Lucy Beresford explained.
“Physiologically, some studies have shown that skin-on-skin contact releases oxytocin – dubbed the ‘happy hormone’ – which helps mothers bond with baby, or lovers bond as a couple. Psychologically, the cuddling, stroking, massaging and nurturing that happens to us as a baby conveys a sense of being looked after and loved.
“We carry that imprint with us as adults, so that welcome touch from someone makes us feel adored, loved or trusted.”
As daft as it may sound, self-hugging is a recognised self-soothing technique and may help if you’re craving human contact. Take a deep breath in, raise your hands to the sky, then wrap your arms around yourself tightly and exhale.
Of course, nothing quite compares to the real thing. So if you know someone who may have gone without a hug, be sure to check in on them and let them know you care, even if you’re not ready to break social distancing just yet.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.