Why not take the opportunity to see beyond the presents and the indulging food, and hug your loved ones over the holidays. Physical affection is healthy, really healthy, but only if you like those who touch you. When I learnt this I stopped telling my small kids to hug someone they didn’t know, or didn’t like, just to be polite. Physical affection can create a lot of stress and unhealthy inflammatory substances if we “have to”.
-“Hug auntie now, come on!”
We are probably meant to hug and cuddle our loved ones often, as Richard Dawkins argues in the Selfish Gene. In spite of the popular belief, it’s not necessarily the aggressive animals that survive. Mammals (and others) that like to cuddle will be more likely to survive as a species. Female animals that cuddle with their babies had more offspring that survived to adulthood. I think it makes total sense, especially if you see how important it is for our immune system, and it lowers blood pressure, it lowers stress hormones and raises the feel-good hormones. Cuddling with a pet works too.
Holding a hand of a dying person lowers the stress of both parties. Getting a hug or cuddling can even put you in a better mood the day after, at least in women. Even cuddling with oneself, holding one’s arm, feeling one’s skin, is better than nothing. All tactile contact is healthy. That makes my heart go out to all those cultures where cuddling often stops after the kids start school, like in SE Asia.
I have some extra time before our retreats start in Thailand so I started volunteering to cuddle with dogs at a new refuge here in Kao Tao. Dogs that last summer would bite anyone walking to fast or biking, were now calm and friendly. Cuddling with humans made them happy, healthy, and less aggressive towards other dogs and humans. What a quick change!
The only affectionate problem that can arise is when we think it requires a sexual act after. If we don’t want that we simply won’t cuddle in the first place, we often hold those hugging impulses back, even if we feel affectionate. A good healthy practice is to separate the two because that’s a cultural thing, not a sexual need, as we often have been made believe. When you want to express your affection, touch. Then stop, and be clear. It’s what they have always done in the Mediterranean countries.
Hug, hug, hug over Christmas, as much as you can!
Feel the touch, put your attention to it, a tactile meditation. Detox those stress hormones. 💚