Why I Started To Hug My Patients

July 8, 2018

After settling in sunny southern California, you would think that with an average high temperature of 70 degrees and 284 sunny days out of the year, people would be happier in general. I was mistaken. In the current area where I work at, anxiety/depression runs rampant despite the perpetual beautiful weather. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.”

There are many solutions to this, behavioral health therapies, meditation, yoga, exercise, deep breathing, the list goes on. However, in our growing age of social media and the internet, people have been more disconnected. My observations are that people are less motivated to actually have a real conversation than they are inclined to be glued to their screens. We even go as far as needing to schedule time just to connect and catch up. This creates less bond time with your fellow human being.

First patient anecdote: I had a patient who suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from a car accident five years prior. He had a difficult time expressing these feelings of anxiousness and discomfort to his wife whenever he would hear a loud noise or whenever he would approach a traffic light. I offered my recommendations to his unique situation, but I could tell nothing was helping because his eyes would well up. So, I finally gave him a hug and he complied. I could feel weight drop from his shoulders. He thanked me.

Second patient anecdote: A young college-bound patient came to me for refills of a steroid cream for her skin rash. What I found out was she was really asking for help with her current emotional state. She just experienced a lot of stress and anxiety for the past two weeks due to her parents divorcing. She was experiencing a lot of guilt and blame. I could tell her head was in a tailspin. My recommendations at the moment were not hitting home for her, so I asked her “Can I give you a hug?” She quickly nodded yes. I told her after our embrace that there is nothing we can control except our reactions to life events and it was not her fault for what she was experiencing. She felt a calm and ease after that.

Bridge that gap of communication and connection by giving a hug. A heartfelt embrace goes a long way than any medicine could do. Give it a try and let me know.

Like Ellen says…”Be kind to one another.”

Much love,

- Zhu

Dr. Colin Zhu is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician and plant-based chef and is the author of the new book: Thrive Medicine: How to Cultivate Your Desires and Elevate Your Life, now on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.