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Covid-19 In Singapore: What To Do Without HUGS And Other Human Contact? – By Expat Andrea McKenna Brankin


I’ll admit it, I’m a serial hugger.

So, it’s been increasingly difficult to adjust to the New World Order, which is no contact, no touching and ipso facto, no hugging. What do we do now?

Humans are tactile creatures so eliminating physical contact really puts a dent in our connections with other people. When I teach kids yoga (and adults, too) I have an exercise where you give yourself a hug. When we hug, we release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that quite literally makes people feel loved. That’s real science.

A couple years back, Healthline reported that hugging has many physical and mental benefits, including reducing stress by showing support, boosting immunity and improving heart health. One recommendation was that we need at least four hugs a day, but we need as many as possible to be as healthy as possible.

Fast-forward to Covid-19: Our hugs are on hold, as long as social distancing is the law of the land. And it’s hard, explains a friend Melissa Abraham.

“It’s a connection with people, a way to show our affection and our humanity. As we continue to distance ourselves from one another – online, on our phones, and now because of Covid-19 – it’s hard to let go of one of the few opportunities we have to show, rather than tell, that we are on this journey together.”

With new regulations in Singapore on who we can gather with privately (i.e., only those in our own households), until the current circuit breaker is over – as we are only allowed to leave home for essential activities – even the previously creative, non-hugging foot taps and elbow or hip bumps are out.

A worker cordones off exercise stations in Pasir Ris on 8 April, as part of Singapore’s circuit breaker to slow the Covid-19 outbreak. (image: Kevin Lim, The Straits Times)

So, what are the alternatives? Here’s a list:

Jazz hands: Seen on Broadway and all over any other dramatic story-telling or energy-pumping dance track. You just hold your hands up and shake your fingers.

Curtsy and bow: People tell me that the curtsy and bow are returning to our greetings, though it doesn’t seem to matter who goes first. In the old days, it was the men who started the exchange and then the woman curtseyed. Or if you were in front of royals, I believe the curtsey is first.

Heart symbol: Some people are using the heart symbol make with your hands that shows up in tons of TikTok videos and Instagram photos.

Ghost hug: The meme going around says, “You can’t feel it, but it’s there!” For this one you may also have to make an announcement that your giving this type of hug.

(image: GIPHY)

Virtual hug: This is done mainly online or via text. It looks like this (( )).

Air hug: I’ve been doing for years at a distance when I’m too far to reach someone. It’s just grabbing the air with your arms, instead of the person. Pretty simple.

Waves or winks: Waves are easy; winks you might have to work on.

Spock hand: “Live long and prosper” is Star Trek’s famous salutation from the Vulcan, Spock. To do this one, hold up your hand and make a split between your middle and index fingers. The accompanying phrase has never had more meaning than now.


Namaste: Putting your hands in prayer and maybe adding a slight bow is really profound, as it means in the yoga world: “The light in me honours the light in you.” It might not be a bad idea to keep this one going after we get through this crisis because we’re better people if we can all see each other’s light.

Overall, without our go-to hugs, it’s important for us to make sure we are showing support and emotion towards each other during this difficult time. We need to put in more effort, whether it’s making a call, doing Face Time or Marco Polo video messages or sending more emails to keep connected to one another.

In the meantime, I’ll be rocking my jazz hands and looking forward to when we can hug each other again. By that time, maybe I’ll incorporate both!


About Andrea McKenna Brankin

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.

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