By Dr. Anthony Policastro

I was an Air Force commanding officer for nine years. I am also Italian. There were times when the things were in direct conflict.

One thing that is common to Mediterranean people like Italians is hugging. One thing commanding officers cannot do is go around hugging people. 

I solved the problem for a short period of time. My retirement ceremony was in the afternoon. My retirement party was in the evening. I made it a requirement that anyone who gave me a gift at my party had to get a hug. 

It went over well. Maybe a little too well. My boss who was eight inches taller than me gave the last gift. When he hugged me, he lifted me eight inches off the ground to everyone’s delight.

One thing that many people do not realize is that hugs are beneficial from a medical standpoint. That is why it is important for us to look for those opportunities.

The support of a hug has a positive effect on the area of the brain associated with mothering instincts. Thus it is stress reducing for the individuals doing the hugging.

Some people may think that hugging can get you sick. That might seem logical. However, the positive emotional benefit on the immune system appears to outweigh any negative effects from the close contact.

Hugging also appears to affect blood pressure and pulse rate. A study looked at couples who held hands for 20 seconds. They compared them to couples who hugged for 20 seconds. The hugging group showed evidence of both blood pressure and pulse lowering more than the group that just held hands.

There is a hormone in the body called oxytocin. Levels of the hormone go up with close contact. When oxytocin levels increase in women, their blood pressure drops. Studies have shown that women (men are not similarly affected) who get frequent hugs from their partner had the most benefits from oxytocin.

Hugs have been shown to reduce anxiety levels. For some reason that is especially true in those with poor self esteem. 

A study in individuals with chronic pain from fibromyalgia resulted in subjectively less pain being reported with frequent hugs.

Sometimes we forget that hugs are a form of body language. We can read body language to tell us when someone is angry. We can do the same for fear. Hugs are a form of positive body language.

Studies have shown that all of these benefits increase as the number of hugs per day go up. The bottom line is that we need to be more like Italians and less like commanding officers.

COVID update- Total number of new cases nationally went from 280,000 last week to 241,000 this week.

Sussex County cases remained low enough for the risk level to remain low. The total number of new cases went from 222 last week to 195 this week.

By comparison the total number of flu cases was 82 cases this season. But there were 172 new cases this week alone, so the flu season has arrived. If you haven’t received your flu shot yet, the time is running out to stay ahead of it. Similar to COVID-19 vaccine, it prevents most cases and also makes those that are breakthrough more likely to be mild. There have been no flu deaths in Delaware so far.