Hug me! Hug pleasing!

The fact that familiar greeting rituals such as a hug were temporarily forbidden to us due to the pandemic also made us realize how important they are to us.

A fist bump, a pat on the back, a friendly handshake or a simple nod of the head… Or perhaps a casual foot-shake or the namaste bow, which is completely unusual for us in Central Europe? How do you greet others these days when meeting friends, family or colleagues at a business meeting? Have you started hugging or kissing on the cheek again? Are things already back to the way they were before the pandemic broke out?

“When habitual behaviours are taken away from us or forbidden – for whatever reason – it naturally does something to us,” says Thomas Blasbichler, psychologist at Park Igls. In these welcoming rituals that we are accustomed to where we live, we’ve all felt and experienced this quite clearly. “We have all found ourselves in situations over the past year and a half that have unsettled, perhaps even disturbed us. Situations where we weren’t sure how to say hello. How will the other person react or what is the most appropriate greeting for all those present in the room,” says Blasbichler. When habitual greeting rituals or gestures are no longer allowed, “social distancing” happens in the truest sense of the phrase.

Gesundheitszentrum Park Igls in Tirol

“Closeness is a part of our lives from birth. I’ll even go so far as to say proximity is vital to our survival. Ideally, when we are held, we feel safety, affection, perhaps love, comfort or trust. Everything we like to feel,” says Thomas Blasbichler. Are we going to forgo hugging? “Never!”

Thomas Blasbichler (MA) Clinical and health psychologist, sports psychologist, specialist in prevention, coach


This is always drastic and often associated with insecurity. “After all, this also has a negative effect on our mutual communication relationship, which is made more difficult by the lack of closeness – a closeness that is actually customary in our culture,” explains the expert. Apart from that, such encounters – where, for example, face masks are worn – require particularly complex actions and reactions within fractions of a second in order to be able to form a positive relationship.

Blasbichler: “Of course, we’re not used to this at all, so how should we be able to do so straight away?” In a hospital operating theatre, for example, the medical staff are used to such conditions and to wearing masks and communicating this way. Outside, all of us who are not constantly confronted with such situations were extremely overwhelmed at first. Misunderstandings in new communication scenarios are therefore completely normal.


With a handshake, a kiss on the cheek or a hug we say much more than just “Hello!”, “Ciao,” or “Hi.” Above all, we express a willingness to cooperate. Through proximity and distance, which we deter – mine ourselves, we humans simultaneously define our relationship to each other. Blasbichler: “In psychology we say: Proximity stands for close communication, distance for unfamiliarity. Everyone knows this instinctively. Just imagine the following greeting situations: a particularly intimate hug from your best friend whom you haven’t seen for a long time or a handshake to greet a new business contact. Such gestures make all the difference.”

Below are two impressive examples of people for whom the crisis had positive and negative effects, respectively:


The daily commute to work – an enormous effort. Leaving the house was generally a difficult undertaking, so he hardly ever went out. His social phobia just wouldn’t allow it. His anxiety in social situations was very pronounced. The many appointments with doctors and therapists reinforced this, and he spent countless days a year on sick leave from work. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. And everything changed… for the better. Home office was a huge relief because he no longer had to go out and be around people. This meant that he had more time and energy to fill his day with sports and exercise.

At the start of the restrictions and tough lockdowns, he went out into the open air more than he ever had before. He never felt as free as he had during these weeks, he says. And why? There was simply no one around to be afraid of. The people he encountered gave him a wide berth, which was a truly wonderful feeling. He didn’t even have to suppress his strong impulse to keep a distance from others. All of this felt so perfectly natural. It was, he says, as if society had finally started to experience his same anxiety. Unlike many others, however, all that was going on was familiar to him… quite familiar indeed. Suddenly life was good. He got an exercise bike, took yoga lessons via streaming video, and made a conscious effort to cook.

To this day, he has what he calls the “privilege of working from home”. He claims to still be able to perform his job quite well. He has not been sick since March of 2020 and in that time he had no doctor’s appointments, which for him was simply unbelievable. He is fully aware that in this uncertain time, a great many people are suffering and going through terrible things and facing tremendous suffering as a result of the pandemic. It will therefore sound strange to many people, but he feels like one of the winners during this surreal, exceptional situation. For society, he hopes that normality will soon return, even though he knows that it will then limit him greatly once again.


Four, seven and ten are the challenging ages of her beloved children. And her? She’s married, full of life, and wholly engaged in professional life. She refers to herself as both lucky and successful – in the prime of her life so to speak. This strong woman knows only of financial worries or existential fears from stories. She enjoys her freedom of choice when it comes to travel and holidays and knows that her future is carefree. But then the corona pandemic hits and her life as she knew it was turned upside down as things took a complete 180. What this would truly mean and with what force it would throw her off her usual track, she had no idea at that time. The ease with which she lived and mastered her life until now was suddenly gone.

It was replaced instead with school closures, distance learning, curfews and restrictions as well as feelings of confinement or being locked up for many months. It was all suddenly too much, she affirms. In addition to her professional life, she has to function as a housewife, cook, teacher, cleaning lady and mum. Every day, seven days a week. Suddenly, she was unable to manage or to even get space.

She was left alone with her tasks, she says, as her husband was of no help. Without distance and her usual freedoms, she fell into a state of constant stress. And before long, sleeping disorders, violent migraine attacks, exhaustion, anxiety disorders and panic attacks followed. These are typical reactions to severe stress and adjustment disorders. Anxiety and depressive disorders were diagnosed later. Accepting help never came easy for her. She’s the type of person who loves to help others, but too often forgets about herself in the process. Because she couldn’t get going on her own and the pressure of suffering was too high, she sought psychological help. Fortunately, such help was available. And she accepted it. “I’m a crisis loser,” she says, “but I am fighting my way out of it. It will make me more resilient and bring back my quality of life.”