Remember - it's ok not to hug

With things starting to return to normal it's likely that many people will be feeling overwhelmed, so it's important to remember to be considerate of other people and what they're comfortable with moving forward.

We have all been through so much as a community - entering a world unknown to us last spring. A year of lockdowns, businesses and hospitality having to close their doors for months on end, school closures, working from home - and while it may have been unknown to us at the beginning, it was something we had to get used to.

That's why as things start to open up, as we begin to mix with others and return to life as it was before, we must all consider other people's boundaries.

Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum has made a toolkit to reassure people and spread their message: 'It's Ok Not to Hug'.

Re-entry anxiety can come in the form of social anxiety, sensory overload or the differences in setting social boundaries. In a recent survey of 200 people, hugging is in the top five things people are most looking forward to when restrictions change. But for others, it's a frightening thought.

Around 1% of the population is people with autistic spectrum conditions. Strong reactions to touch are remarkably widespread among people who have autism.

It's not just people with anxiety and autism who are feeling reticent to hug. Everyone is dealing with their feelings around the pandemic differently, which comes down to setting personal boundaries. The Cornwall VSF campaign offers universal messaging, and supports saying 'no' to hugs.

Cornwall VSF CEO Helen Boardman said: "We wanted to reassure people that they can take their time returning to 'normal' and set their own social boundaries. We want to make sure people know it's ok not to hug." Director for public health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Rachel Wigglesworth, said: "For some people, being allowed to hug friends and family again is something that they have very much been looking forward to. "But we must remember that not everyone wants to be hugged, for a variety of reasons. That could be that anxiety around virus transmission or they have been used to being isolated since the pandemic began. If you do wish to hug someone, please don't put vulnerable people at risk, try to keep faces away from each other and keep it brief."

For more information about the campaign, visit https://www.cornwallvsf.org/its-ok-not-to-hug/