"The Family Circus” cartoon’s creator, Bil Keane, once said “They invented hugs to let people know you love them without saying anything,” but the Corona Era’s potential huggees often say, “Don’t touch me!” Now experts say the virus isn’t readily transmitted through touching, according to “How to Hug During a Pandemic,” a recent NYTimes article by Tara Parker-Pope who asked Dr. Linsey Marr, “an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on airborne disease transmission,” about safe hugging. “Dr. Marr calculated that the risk of exposure during a brief hug can be surprisingly low even if you hugged a person who didn’t know they were infected and happened to cough.” It takes an estimated 200 to 1,000 “copies” of the virus to sicken us, an average cough ejects between 5,000 to 10,000 viruses but most of that lands on nearby surfaces. About 2% (100-200 viruses) lands on a person in close contact, but “only 1% of those stray particles — just one or two viruses — actually will be infectious.”
Here are Marr’s recommendations: Don’t hug face to face or cheek-to-cheek, but do turn in opposite directions; let children hug you around the knees or waist and kiss them on the backs of their heads. And limit your hugs to less than 10 seconds. This will help with your catastrophizing, or “convincing yourself a current or future situation or event will potentially turn out catastrophic. The word “catastrophizing” isn’t new, but it’s one of many emerging pandemic terms, according to “Our Even-Expanding Virus Vernacular” by New Yorker author Karen Russell who “describes the assimilation of this novel lexicon as a kind of ‘language contagion.’” She wrote that “self-isolation,’ ‘social distancing’ … pairs of words I’d never seen back in January have become ubiquitous,” and that so many have surfaced the Oxford English Dictionary’s being updated early.
Blessed with four extremely huggable children nearby, “skin hunger” is particularly evocative. It’s also known as “touch starved” by Healthline.com, who said, “Humans are wired to be touched … Being touch starved … occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things … Any and all positive touch in considered to be beneficial.” Pinches and slaps don’t count, “but scientists have found that a nerve ending, called C-tactile afferents, exists to recognize any form of gentle touch.”
Even self-touching helps. Wired.com’s Sirin Kale quotes Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami: “when you touch the skin it stimulates pressure sensors (C-tactile afferents) under the skin that send messages to the vagus (a nerve in the brain). As vagal activity increases, the nervous system slows down, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and your brain waves show relaxation … Being touched makes humans feel calmer, happier and more sane.” If you’re isolated, Dr. Field recommended “moving your skin” by getting as much exercise as possible — even walking around the room helps, massage your scalp, rub moisturizer into your skin and “having pets is wonderful. When you pet a dog, you’re also moving your own skin and experiencing pressure stimulation.”
Then there’s “zoom fatigue.” The Guys Read Gals Read board’s planning for delivering books and readings to school kids next fall is greatly facilitated by Zooming. But Zoom’s novelty’s worn thin, and “How to Combat Zoom Fatigue” from the Harvard Business Review explained why. “Why do we find video calls so draining?” HRV asked, and replied “because they force us to focus more intently on conversations in order to absorb information,” yet “video calls make it easier than ever to lose focus … Because you have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work,” multitasking — like checking email while zooming — can reduce productivity by 40%.
We’re wired to be curious and looking around, so “having to engage in a “constant gaze’ makes us uncomfortable and tired … Without the visual breaks we need to refocus, our brains grow fatigued. Combat zoom fatigue by not multitasking, taking mini-breaks during longer calls by minimizing and hiding the videos screen for a while, “or just looking away from your computer completely for a few seconds. And “reduce on-screen stimuli” by hiding the room you’re in with a plain background. These palliatives aren’t cure-alls, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out,” The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.