International Hugging Day has new meaning this year

By Renee Palagyi, senior program manager, Disaster Cycle Services

January 21, 2021- January 21 is International Hugging Day. Many times I have said, “Wow, there’s a day for EVERYTHING!” Some trite, some powerful but all get recognition. This year, a day devoted to a simple gesture has taken on a whole new meaning.

No words required, a hug is filled with compassion, caring and empathy. It expresses an understanding far beyond language.

September 17, 2020. Salem, Oregon. American Red Cross volunteer Leslie Sierra delivers a comfort kit to Juanita Ann Hamann who is staying in a Red Cross hotel shelter. Ms. Hamann says, “My time at the Red Cross shelter has been wonderful. It feels like being adopted by a guardian angel.” Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Are you a person who gives a hug or are you more comfortable with a handshake or maybe even just a nod and a smile? Did you know that a hug can actually boost the hormone oxytocin? Sounds mysterious but the release of that soothing chemical helps us feel safe, boosts our immune system and lowers our stress levels. Studies have shown that a 20-second hug reduced blood pressure and heart rate for a full day! Makes you want to give a hug, doesn’t it?

For nearly a year, the pandemic has placed a barrier on this healing act for all but our immediate “bubble.” Those of us who work in Disaster Cycle Services for the American Red Cross have seen firsthand the power of the hug for many years, and we have been missing it over these past many months.

September 18, 2020. Gates, Oregon. American Red Cross volunteer Eric Carmichael talks with Sabrina Kent whose home was totally consumed by the wildfires. Sabrina has come to look at the remains of her home after the Oregon wildfires. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Meeting those families after a devastating fire and standing six feet away has been painful. We want so badly to reach out to them, to let them “hold on” for a few precious moments, to allow them to know the comfort and care that only a hug can provide. At both sides of that invisible six-foot line are human beings who know and want the power of human touch.

We all look forward to the day when we can safely offer true comfort, a gentle hug, to people who’ve experienced a disaster and who need our help.  

September 21, 2020. Pensacola, Florida. J.R., a photographer from Alabama had just moved to Pensacola, Florida, so Hurricane Sally was his first hurricane experience. “The water was up to my knees.” He currently has a tree up against the side of his house that threatens to break through the window if he can’t get it removed. Photo by Jaka Vinek/American Red Cross

For more information about the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief and Recovery services, click here. If you are interested in helping families and offering support to individuals who have experienced a disaster, explore the volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Region. Check out the opportunities here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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