Coronavirus Diary 26 – Dying for a hug?

Today is a special day, it is 42 days since I last had any physical contact with anybody and 84 days since I started my own social distancing.  It was a great hug from a friend and knowing what was coming we broke the rules and had a special hug.  It was a good luck hug too and a ‘if one of us doesn’t make it then remember this’ type of hug.

Even that was sort of a one off.  Social distancing was already in my actions even if the term hadn’t properly been coined.  With my asthma and chest infections I started all of that 42 days previously when a succession of doctors examined my leg.

A few years ago it was revealed half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all. The charity Age UK ran an important campaign called ‘No one should have no one’.  I remember thinking at the time how they always concentrate on loneliness with old people.  There are plenty of much younger people who live similarly and though older people have the disadvantage of possibly being more infirm, younger people have the disadvantage of if they are actually alone, nobody actually stops to consider them.    Just a few days ago a 21 year old man committed suicide due to the strains of self-isolation.

I must admit five or six days without seeing or speaking to anyone is quite normal for me even in pre-lockdown times though 42 days is pushing it rather.

It’s strange not to have a recent memory of human touch. So much of our life is based on fleeting physical connections that ground us, comfort us after loss or disappointment. Or annoy us like a sweaty person squashing you on a bus or tube train.

Touch is so important to mental health. A slight touch on the shoulder slows down heart rate, blood pressure and the release of the stress hormone cortisol.  Touch someone lightly on the arm makes it more likely that they will respond to us in a positive way.  Touch also boosts our immune system, and leads to increases in levels of the hormone serotonin, which is our body’s natural antidepressant.

Casual social touch is can be an incredible element of our lives, a quick tap on the arm to show the joke was good. A reassuring pat on the knee to know that you’re not alone.   A hug which for as long as it lasts makes everything ok with the world.

Recent studies have shown that people who live alone and have little interaction with the outside world are more likely to end up in hospital with respiratory disease. Living alone and poor social engagement was found to increase the chance of a trip to hospital by 32 and 24 per cent, respectively.

It also has implications for the severity of the coronavirus – itself a life-threatening breathing disorder.  Lead author Professor Daisy Fancourt, of University College London, said: ‘Whilst this study focused on respiratory disease, it does raise questions as to if, and how, hospital admissions for other respiratory conditions such as COVID-19 may be related to social factors such as isolation in addition to biomedical factors.’

Both social isolation and loneliness have been linked with an increased incidence of morbidity and mortality and are associated with decreased medication adherence and health-seeking behaviours, and increased hospital admissions for a wide range of conditions including mental illness and heart failure.’

We’ve probably all heard of the phrase and heard it on the grapevine of someone dying of loneliness or a broken heart.  In fact research suggests it is possible to ‘die of loneliness’.

A major study of 480,000 people in the U.K. published in March 2018 suggested social isolation can increase the chance of a stroke by 39 per cent and premature death by 50 per cent.  Loneliness may raise the risk of a heart attack by more than 40 per cent, researchers found.

Those who already had cardiovascular problems were far more likely to die early if they were isolated, suggesting the importance of family and friends in aiding recovery.  The research team, which included British academics, said lonely people had a higher rates of chronic diseases and smoking and showed more symptoms of depression.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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8 Responses to Coronavirus Diary 26 – Dying for a hug?

  1. Marilyn Allan says:

    You have to get out and go somewhere every day! I do! Drive around or take a walk! Can yall gather in small groups? Can you invite someone over to sit in backyard and have a glass of wine? We can gather in small groups outside! Stephen, you have to do this!! I know you have a lot of friends! Put a mask on and go to the grocery store! Take care of yourself! When is the UK to open up? Marilyn

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re not allowed just to go for a drive and we can’t meet or walk in groups or have people over at all. No-one is allowed to meet with anyone outside their house and so as I am the only person in my house it is just me. Thankfully I’m very entertaining!!! I don’t think even in the UK, people appreciate what its like to me self-isolated on their own unless they are on their own. From what I can tell of people who live with partners or families, their lives are a bit different.


  2. Sending you a cyber hug. Take care my friend. It is lovely to connect with you through your blog.
    Best Wishes, Charlotte

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Charlotte. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it to get to know people through blogs and writing and become friends with those who ordinarily you would never even get to meet. Thank-you for my cyber hug and I look forward to seeing what is going on this friday evening 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alecs3000 says:

    I know the feeling very well too. Sending a virtual hug!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I will hug you if/when I come back to the Uk Stephen, you have an IOU card for hugs to be redeemed at a later date, put on some tea…will hug. In meantime please accept a virtual hug

    Liked by 1 person

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