We can now hug again but it's fine to wait if you feel anxious

THIS is the day millions have been longing for: We can hug again.

Yes, pubs are letting us back inside for a drink for the first time since Christmas.

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But 420 days after the start of the first lockdown, when we were told to keep our distance to protect loved ones, we can hug friends and family again instead of elbow bumps and blown kisses.

Hugs are not only comforting, they are proven to be good for our health.

When you grab and hold someone you love, it releases oxytocin in the brain. That is the same “happy hormone” released when you have sex, in childbirth and when you breastfeed. 

It works to counter the “stress hormone” cortisol, so a hug really can make you feel better after a tough day.

Hugs may also protect against illness and a study found they can benefit heart health by reducing blood pressure and lowering your heart rate. 

Touch can reduce anxiety, particularly in those with low self-esteem. Another study suggests hugs reduce pain and ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

But more than anything, hugs are one of the best ways we have to show others we care. How hard you hug can convey the depth of your feelings.

IT’S FINE TO WAIT

Yet it is natural to feel some anxiety. After months of being told it could put your loved ones at risk, it might seem overwhelming. So take it at your own pace. This is a personal judgment.

You don’t have to sit and drink inside a pub just because you can.

Likewise, we don’t have to go round hugging people. Save it for the people who matter most to you.

Though cases are low and the vaccination drive is making a huge difference, we are not home and dry. The jab is the best protection we have but no vaccine is 100 per cent effective.

If you are in one of the vulnerable groups – even if you have had both doses – you might want to keep hugs short, avoid face-to-face contact or even wear a mask. It is fine to wait if you still feel anxious.

The roadmap tells us the earliest point at which each step is safe. But you must decide when you feel ready.

Remember, cases were falling last summer and life was beginning to start up again. Yet by the autumn, a second wave was taking off and the Kent strain was starting to spread.

Overall, the message is one of hope. We have every reason to feel positive about carefully returning to normal life, thanks to the incredible success of the vaccine – a weapon we didn’t have in our armoury this time last year.

The next step must be to take it worldwide. Until that happens, we can’t feel totally safe.

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