The Journal Gazette
Saturday, February 27, 2021 1:00 am

The warm embrace of shared song

Humans are hard-wired to hug, and the lack of warm embraces among friends and loved ones has affected us as we've weathered the interminable COVID-19 pandemic.

That's according to James Coan, a University of Virginia psychology professor who told National Public Radio affiliate WVTF-FM that hugs or other forms of touch such as handshakes can serve as antidotes to stresses brought on by serious situations.

“A warm hug literally tells your brain that it has less to worry about, and it needn't worry as much about whatever does happen, giving us a little bit of a break – a chance to relax,” he said.

But what happens when hugging is off limits? There are other options for bonding with others in times of stress.

When Notre Dame Cathedral burned in 2019, crowds gathered outside to sing hymns. Struck by the coronavirus in 2020, Italian citizens sang on their balconies – apart, but with, their neighbors.

Coan said that's a little like hugging, and he's found that singing together can signal cooperation when faced with threats.

“The vulnerability – plus the acceptance and the reassurance – really nourishes our brains, making it feel like it's safe, like there are people in the world who care what happens to us, and we don't have to be as watchful for danger in the future,” he told the radio station.

So, sing a joyful song. And remember, hugs aren't gone forever.

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