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How a year without hugs negatively impacts your mental health

It's been almost a year since many have been able to hug their loved ones without the fear of COVID-19. Experts say that's not great for your mental health.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Hugging is therapeutic and so many people are missing that feeling. It's been almost a year since we've been able to embrace loved ones without fear of COVID-19.

Experts say, going that long without physical touch is a negative for your mental health.

For families who have loved ones in nursing  home, the pain of no hugs or physical touch is apparent. For Piper Kyle, she knows the next time she hugs her grandmother, whom she calls Nonna, will be a special moment.

"I'm probably going to not let go for an hour when I get to hug her again," Kyle said. "I miss Nonna hugs. She always she always hugs really tight, and I'll probably cry because it's been so long."

Her nonna is in a nursing home, and has been since Mother's Day Weekend 2020. The two have gone that long without their special embrace.

"If I would have known that Mother's Day, 2020 was the last time I was going to get to physically see and touch my grandmother, I would have hugged her a little longer, a little tighter, I would have engaged in more conversation," Kyle admitted.

Credit: Piper Evans

For many, it's been almost a year since hugging without fear of COVID-19. Experts say, wrapping your arms around someone you love is so beneficial for your mental health.

"The key neurotransmitter, the chemical that Is released into the body, is called oxytocin, and so oxytocin is involved in bond and connection," Licensed profession therapist Melissa Rose said.

The feeling and benefits of oxytocin start at birth and helps form who we are as people.

"It does contribute to our relaxation, it contributes to trust and it contributes to really just overall emotional stability," Rose said.

There are other ways to get that oxytocin flowing though, like hugging a pet, listening to music and doing yoga.

"It won't feel the same, but we're just all in survival mode," Rose explained.

For now, Evans settles for window visits with her nonna.

"You just want to break the glass and go in there and hug them but you can't," Kyle said.

She's hoping for a post-pandemic hug.

Experts also say, you can almost "live vicariously" through TV and movie characters. You can get a boost of that hugging feeling just by watching the screen.