Close to you…

pigeons cuddled up

I wander into the kitchen… the world is silent except for the little grunting noises Ani makes as I cuddle her good morning. I don’t speak dog fluently, but I have a feeling these short, low grunts are an expression of affection; you only ever hear them during cuddles and that is how we start our day, the small dog and I.

As the kettle boils I think about the number of people who are, of necessity, home alone this Christmas and New Year, banned from cuddles, separated from their loved ones by regulations and, ironically, a desire to protect their health.  When cuddles are good for health. A twenty-second cuddle, I remember reading, does you the world of good on so many levels. I couldn’t recall all the science behind it, but I was prepared to agree unquestioningly that cuddles are good for you. Just having someone close enough to open their arms to you, someone you trust enough to be able to hug back… that shows you have affection in your life and that has to be a good thing. Even when the arms are paws.

Cuddling is instinctive in many situations, from the moment a mother holds her newborn child to her heart it becomes a gesture of warmth and comfort. We cry on friends’ shoulders, reach out to hug each other for sheer joy, and it is one of the simplest and most eloquent expressions of friendship, empathy and love.

I don’t need the research to back up the logic of this, but I look it up anyway. Yep, cuddling affects oxytocin and cortisol levels… the bonding hormone and stress marker. And apparently, cuddles have even wider health benefits for women than they do for men, potentially protecting heart health on a physical level and having a positive effect on blood pressure. That explains a lot… Women tend to be more tactile than men and, as an advocate of listening to what your body is telling you, perhaps it is a response to something deeper than a romantic longing for closeness.

I wonder if dog cuddles count scientifically? I know they do, of course, but wonder if the research has extended yet to include pets. The work done with MRI scans show dogs have complex emotions close to our own, not that any dog-person needs to be told that. I tap a quick query into the search bar; sure enough talking to pets also reduces stress levels. So at least now I have a scientifically based excuse.

The coffee kicks in and I make a mental link with the research done into the negative health implications of loneliness. (If you don’t click on any of the other links, this one is worth the read.) The results are stark and shocking in their reflection of how society is moving away from closeness to aloneness. Being on your own can be wonderful, chosen solitude can be a delight… but serious loneliness isn’t. It is appalling.

I recall many years ago, finding myself feeling such utter aloneness and isolation. It went on for a while… so long it was desperate enough that I had to resist the urge to reach out and touch people I passed in the street. Which sounds overblown, but honestly, that’s how it feels. And that was only for a few weeks. Can you imagine what it must be like for those who are lonely for years? It can, according to the studies, quite literally knock years off your life. ‘Even more than poverty’ says one report… but don’t get me on my soapbox at this time of morning… The enforced loneliness of this covid year has far too much to answer for and I wonder if we will ever know the true extent of the ‘collateral damage’ of the measures imposed to combat the virus.

How many have simply given up? How many people’s health has been negatively impacted, both physically and emotionally, by being isolated this year? I have felt it myself… apart from one necessary drive at the very start of this in March, I have not been away from home for any other reason than a hospital admission. Apart from a couple of days out, I have seen nothing except the same five mile stretch of road between home and work until it changed to the road between home and hospital.  And I am one of the lucky ones, equipped with and used to technology. And it has really got to me… I can only imagine how much worse it is for those unable to get out at all, far from loved ones and not comfortable with or capable of making video calls.

I’ve been pondering the obvious link between these three bits of research. The extension to that, of course, is the social support that is lacking in the lives of the lonely and isolated. There is introspection instead of stimulation and interaction … and while both solitude and introspection can be a good thing when they are a conscious choice, they make for increasingly limiting conversation when it is all you have.

Modern communication methods are a double-edged sword. While it is easier than ever to keep in touch with people across the world, it is also easier than ever to just send a quick message instead of picking up the phone or putting on your coat and going round to see someone…assuming that such visiting is allowed. For those who do not have the technical expertise or the funds to access the technology this trend becomes yet another nail in a coffin that suddenly seems more realistic than proverbial. The high cost of travel for those on a limited income coupled with the long hours many have to work in order to survive further compounds the problem. And many this year have seen their livelihoods at risk or lost altogether. We live in a society that is increasingly isolating us on a physical level and I wonder how readily we are accepting that isolation without realising its consequences?

Then the stimulus of coffee joins up another couple of dots and the well-known mental, emotional and physical benefits of helping others adds itself to the mix. So, even if we aren’t in need of cuddles ourselves, giving them to others still does us good. And if we are not allowed the physical cuddle, perhaps we can substitute that  with some other way of helping ease the isolation.

Deeper reading of the research and commentaries and a bit of thought beyond the specifics and you can’t escape the idea that affection and companionship are good for health. And that the physical demonstration of that in terms of interaction… cuddles and touch where permissible, or even eye contact, a shared smile or talking to the dog… is measurably good for us; physically, emotionally and psychologically.

For those who see Love at the centre of creation, this is no surprise; for to put it in simpler terms even the scientists now agree… love matters.

At a time of year when many of us make resolutions to improve our health, wellbeing and quality of life, it is worth thinking about. The cost of gym membership and therapy is high. Time and energy are limited. Perhaps all we need to do is to resolve to share more smiles and meet more eyes from beneath the masks we now wear… and get creative about finding ways to break through the isolation.

58 thoughts on “Close to you…

  1. Virtual hug is all I can offer you and gladly. Me, I make no bones about it, while I enjoy my own company, I am lonely at times. My Mum is even more so locked up in an old people’s home not allowed out or visitors in while one by one, the residents are rushed to the hospital with the virus. Meanwhile, there is no plan. There never was. Politicians have taken the easy way of locking people up but I suspect in 2021 they will begin to appreciate the damage their policies have done. Oh the vaccine…. that was the plan. You know, the one that doesn’t stop you getting it, doesn’t stop you passing it on and may be totally ineffective against new variants. Well, at least Pfizer shareholders are richer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Never underestimate the power of a hug. It fixes so much. And as for talking to and cuddling pets, well, I can arrest to its healing powers. I had this discussion with a cousin in Alberta, Canada just last night. We are such a huggy family, this separation and lack of hugs has been so difficult. Making do with virtual hugs. Ler´s hope the means justifies the end. Hugs to you and Ani. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My three year old granddaughter, who is always loving and smiling, will not hug. She has just spent one of her formative years being told that hugging is not only wrong but dangerous, by every authority figure outside of home… I hope she can grow through that and that we are not raising a generation of damaged children who will pass on that damaging distance to their children…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I hope she will too … I had the same thoughts about the wee lad across the way. He’s gone from being a babe in arms to a toddler with unstoppable energy. He has a few people in his ‘bubble’, but I do wonder about his ability to transcend the ‘don’t hug’ isolation. Time, the years, will tell.


  3. I do miss hugs. I’ve got my husband, yes, but I miss hugs from others. A friend called during lockdown 1 (socially distanced on my drive) to say a mutual friend had died from the virus, after being ill for some weeks. We both wanted to hug each other. Although I’ve seem my children and grandchildren, I’ve been unable to hug them. Friends I would normally hug when we meet, I can’t hug.
    Virtual hugs are better than nothing, but can’t replace actual physical contact. Zoom meetings are better than phone calls, but can’t replace face to face visits. Let’s hope it ends soon, although I fear Covid-19 is something we’re going to have to live with.


  4. What a wonderful post! Having lived the majority of my life hand in paw I know the truth of what you say. And while I am alone now, I have incredible memories of my animal companions to keep my heart warm.


  5. I think the virus has only magnified what was already there. People glued to their devices instead of each other. A virtual hello instead of actually meeting for a walk or tea. Insular families instead of extended ones. Neighbors that don’t know each other. I’m still friends with many people from the building I lived in 30 years ago. I know no one from most of the ones of the last 15 years. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, I think you are right, Kerfe, although the restrictions are enforcing what had crept in insidiously. I know very few people in my village, even though I have now lived here for almost twenty years.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dog hugs are better than just about anything. Each dog I’ve been close to has shown his/her own way of acknowledging how much hugs mean. My brother’s dog purrs like a cat when I hug him. My last dog, Henry, shivered up and down his spine. Yes, touch and hugs mean everything to all beings, I believe. My mom survived her dementia and her 96 years with unbelievable strength and health – until Covid came and she lost the touch and company of friends and family. I believe her will to life left then…and she acquired the virus and died within five days. How I wish I could have hugged her goodbye. ❤


  7. Everything you say is spot on, Sue. Yes, love matters. A virtual hug is like looking at the cookie and not being allowed to take a bite. For those who have constant isolation…well, I can’t imagine the damage to their souls.


  8. Everything about your post connected with me, Sue. First off, I am a dog lover. My dogs’ affection goes a long way in making any situation better. I can be in a crappy mood, and suddenly everything doesn’t seem so bad. Every dog we’ve ever had craves this attention too, so it is mutually beneficial.

    Besides the obvious physical concerns to the virus, the greatest implications for many are the associated loneliness that comes with isolation. I’m not that person who constantly needs to be around people, but I miss the hugs of a friend, sharing some conversation while enjoying a beer with my buddies, and stopping on a walk to interact with random strangers.

    I’ve tried to reach out to those who are alone more so this year than ever before. I know a phone call is not the same as being there, but it’s better than having no contact at all. We need to look after one another as the emotional toll this is taking is significant.


    1. I agree, Pete. I value solitude, but I do like the possibility of being able to hug a friend or talk across a table. The emorional and psychological damage this past year has done will be making ripples for years yet.


  9. It’s been a very hard year for so many. Our eldest son has had to work from home since the beginning of lockdown he really finds it so hard as he likes face to face contact and people. Our middle son facing covid on his own. We all miss our children and grandchildren. Like your granddaughter our grandsons no longer hug us as they have been told not too. …we have a lot to heal even when the pandemic finally goes, if it ever does.💜


  10. I hate to think how much emotional damage is being done in the effort to control the pandemic. I did at least get some wonderful cuddles from my sister’s dog (if not from my sister!) today – she was wriggling from snout to tail and really made me feel she has been missing me.


  11. I agree on so many levels. There are times when just the touch of someone’s hand, or to feel an arm around you provides more than comfort. The need to feel the breath of another being, the feel of a heartbeat other than your own, a sense that you are not the only one alive, and that there is ‘someone else’.
    Thinking of you Sue.


  12. Loved this, Sue. It’s so true! Cat cuddles are good, too. Garfield comes for a cuddle and pet in bed and it relaxes me for sleep! Elijah Moon used to do it, and I didn’t sleep well until we got Garfie. I feel so deeply sad for all the people forced to exist alone during this past year, when a pair of arms, a dog or a cat would be so wonderful for them. Ani, you are one empathetic dog!


  13. Isolation due to C-19 is probably a bigger threat than the actual virus is to most people. A silver lining is that animal shelters are having a banner year because of it, so at least some folks are finding the love and cuddles they crave. Even before C-19, I found it hard to live without a pet, and I’m grateful for the smiles and laughs their antics bring on a daily basis. Truly, it does the heart good. 🙂


  14. I lost two friends to Covid although they did NOT have the virus. Both were widows who lived alone and were keeping close to home. One became confused on her days and nights, often up all night and would be asleep and confused when a phone call from me would awaken her at 2:30 in the afternoon. One day she went to bed without eating or taking her meds and didn’t get up. That’s where her daughter found her two days later, in bed, permanently asleep. The other hated cooking only for herself and didn’t at eat. Soon she was too weak to cook,,,and… she died at home of dehydration and not eating. Sad.


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