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The Magic of Tactical Hugging: Yep, You Need it Now*

It really hit me how much I miss hugging when we saw our nephews on a walk. We were social distancing of course, and none of us could hug each other. It was really hard not to, and the moment felt strangely incomplete.

*Covid Caveat from our Doctor friend: It’s a good idea to hug family members you’re isolating with as long as 1) no one has symptoms, 2) no one in the house is regularly exposed (i.e. still going to work), and 3) they’ve changed clothes and/or bathed since leaving the house.

Whenever we’re stressed or depressed, we can de-prioritize and even avoid physical contact with others. Especially now that we’re overwhelmed, scared and socially distanced from so many loved ones, physical touch is more needed than ever. Don’t worry, we’re not pushing sex (this whole Pandemic thing is kind of a libido killer), but rather hugging, which science says boosts happiness and reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. And the kicker for moms: children who are hugged regularly early in life exhibit less signs of stress later in life.

Here’s how to squeeze from hugs all of the magical powers they offer:

What To Do (Bites)

  1. The more hugging, the better.

    Famed Family Therapist Virginia Satir famously decreed that we “need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth.”  To our knowledge, no scientific studies have validated Satir’s numbers. But the science does seem clear on this: when it comes to hugging, more is more. Within your isolation squad, be liberal in giving and receiving hugs (applying the caveats outlined above).

    Since the usual hugging occasions of greeting or saying goodbye aren’t as frequent, look for other kinds of everyday transitions to hug members of your household, e.g. before or after meals, before transitioning to “work time,” when saying good morning or goodnight. Of course you can always drop hug bombs for no reason at all.


  2. Hug for an awkwardly long time.

    Prolonged hugging produces oxytocin – that glorious hormone that’s also released during sex, fertility, contractions (ouch), delivery and breastfeeding. That’s why it’s nickname is the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle hormone.’ To get that feel-good feeling, research says 20 seconds is the sweet spot for hugging. It may sound like an eternity but it’s quicker than, say, waiting for your kid to pick out their bedtime story, so worth it. Give it a try – we promise you’ll be happy you did.

  3. Practice hug consciousness. Be mindful of giving and receiving.

    In any given hug, be mindful of allowing yourself to be hugged while also being sure to actively hug back. The hug is a reciprocal act – an active giving and taking, a simultaneous exchange of a gift. Like other forms of mindfulness, this kind of consciousness of the hug as an active, physical exchange is thought to aid its powerful, transformative benefits.



  1. Moms have shared special “hug rituals” they’ve created with their infants and children. It could be a special way you send a virtual hug to a child in a car seat, a fun hug ritual before bed (10 quick hugs or horizontal hugs) or just labeling a “super big hug” as a thing you do with your child. 


  2. To be clear, we’re talking about hugging in the personal realm. There’s likely little risk of this now, but once we return to normalcy and we’re out there in the world and work, remember hugging isn’t always appropriate so always make sure that there is clear consent to the giving of your hug.

  3. Fun fact: Ever had that awkward ‘which way to hug’ moment?  Stay conscious of your lead hand.  Most people prefer to lead with their right-side when hugging because 90% of humans are right-handed.  However, when people hug in situations they deem to be emotionally charged – positively or negatively — left-sided hugs occur more frequently in emotional situations.  Why? The left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain — which is heavily involved in processing both positive and negative emotions. 


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