THIS week's community column comes from Rev Christine Murdoch, minister at the Church of Scotland’s Lochside Linkage.

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ONE of the things that I have missed most while living under Covid-19 restrictions for the last year and a half is sharing hugs with family and friends who are not part of my household.

There is nothing quite like a hug to make us feel special, to strengthen the bonds of friendship, and just to say to someone else that I’m here for you and I feel your joy – or indeed, that I share your pain.

We all know the feeling of reduced stress levels when someone gives us a sympathetic hug, but did you know hugging has other benefits?

According to, numerous studies have shown that the benefits of hugging go beyond that warm feeling you get when you hold someone in your arms.

Hugs can protect us against illness. They can boost our heart health, they can make us feel happier, while reducing our fears, and they may even reduce pain, as studies involving people with fibromyalgia have shown.

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Since I have been living with fewer hugs of late, I have instead been enjoying feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. To me that is almost as good as a hug, especially when we have an unexpectedly sunny day.

So, you can imagine my delight and surprise last week when it was revealed that two scientists, Professors David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, had been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for discovering how heat and touch affect our nervous system, and identifying critical missing links in our understanding of the interplay between our senses and the environment.

Their work could lead to new ways to control and treat chronic pain and other ailments. Having lived with chronic pain in the past, I know how important the professors’ research is to many people around the world.

During the October holiday, I am hoping and praying that, even in late autumn, the sun will shine for us all, and that we can feel the warmth of the sun on our faces before winter arrives.

Hopefully spending more time with family, as we can – and hopefully have been doing – under the relaxed pandemic restrictions means that we can all enjoy a few hugs too.

Now I know that those hugs don’t just make me feel good, they will also help other people overcome the chronic pain which is part of their daily lives.

That knowledge lifts my spirits almost in the same way as a hug from a friend would do, and I wish David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian – and others who will develop their work in the future – all God’s blessings as they seek to make life pain free for so many people who suffer.

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