We all have little things in our lives that give us a dose of extra comfort. For some people, it’s a favourite sweater, for others, it’s a certain smell that reminds them of home. However, no matter what kind of person you are – nothing soothes the soul quite like a hug.
There are two types of people in the world – people who embrace the hug lifestyle, and people who get nervous or uncomfortable about the thought of physical contact. Whether you’re the kind of person who likes to show their affection, excitement, or happiness as often as possible with hugs – or a person who stays away from other people at all costs – the truth is that hugs are more than just a wonderful human experience – they’re good for you.
Despite your individual touchy-feely preferences, hugging can convey messages that words simply can’t accomplish. The right hug can create a special bond between people, allow you to share in someone else’s happiness, or experience a moment that’s important to someone you care about. Whether you’re wrapped up in the arms of your partner, or you’re greeting an old friend – hugs have a way of making us feel extra warm and fuzzy inside. However, aside from making you feel protected and loved, these touching gestures can also do amazing things for your well-being.
Even if you aren’t much of a hugger, the positive health benefits of a hug that we’re going to discuss below might just change your mind. From a simple squeeze, to a big bear cuddle – there are plenty of reasons to embrace the magic of the hug.
Hugs Make You Feel Good: Squeeze Away Stress
When you hug someone, you’re not just feeling their body against yours, or the pressure of their arms around you. Embracing someone leads to feelings and responses that occur deep within your brain – changing the way you feel on an emotional level.
Hugging someone releases the hormone “oxytocin” – which is known to some as the “cuddle hormone” The chemical makes us feel fuzzy and warm inside, and has also been linked to things like social bonding. Oxytocin is a form of neuropeptide, which simply promotes feelings of trust, bonding, and devotion. It helps us to lay down the foundations that we need to connect with the people around us.
If increasing your chances of a stronger relationship wasn’t enough of a benefit, other studies have found that oxytocin can also lower blood pressure. In other words, a ten second hug with the person you love could chase away some of the most common problems that lead to stress, over-exhaustion, and similar problems.
Besides improving your chances for social bonding and even lowering your blood pressure, hugs naturally reduce the amount of stress you feel on a regular basis. If you find yourself feeling constantly strung out – then giving someone a squeeze could help to regulate your emotions and give you that happiness boost you’ve been looking for.
Studies show that when we embrace another person, the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone), in our systems starts to decrease. Huges also help our bodies to release tension and send calming messages through to the brain. Just twenty seconds of hugging can reduce the harmful effects associated with constant exposure to stress – such as the impact that stress can have on the heart and blood pressure.
Hugs Benefit Babies and Adults
If you’re looking for a way to do something positive for the next generation – then one of the best things you can do is hug babies while they’re still small and cute. According to an Emory study conducted on rats – there’s a significant connection between touch and the ability to relieve stress – particularly during the early stages of life. If babies get plenty of hugs when they are younger, they may be able to better cope with sources of stress when they grow into adults.
The way that we respond positively to hugging stays with us from our early lives, throughout our adulthood. After all – why do you think that people get so many different health benefits out of massage? The touch of another person – whether it’s a stranger or someone you love – can do wonders for the human body and mind.
Studies have found that full-body hugs can stimulate the nervous system while reducing feelings of fear, loneliness, and poor-self-esteem. Your hug can reduce tension and help you to show appreciation to another person. What’s more – if you ever doubted the power of touch, consider the fact that children who don’t get hugged often when they’re young often have delays in reading, talking, and walking.
Although hugging babies is a great way to give them a positive future, it’s also worth noting that some experts suggest that adults are the people who could benefit the most from hugging. When we grow older, we tend to think of ourselves as too big and strong to engage in a good cuddle – but the truth is that we probably need those hugs a lot more than our childish counterparts.
According to researchers with the Ohio State University, physical touch and hugging becomes increasingly important to us as we age. The older we get, the more fragile we become on a physical level, which means that human contact becomes increasingly essential for good health. Scientific research has shown that loneliness – particularly when it is combined with age – can increase our levels of stress and heighten our chances of suffering from adverse health effects.
Hugging someone is an instant cure to loneliness – because it allows us to feel automatically closer to another human being.
Hugging Reduces Fear and Improves Understanding
What do you do when you’re frightened? Even if you don’t turn to another person for comfort, the chances are that you wrap your arms around yourself, or hold something close to your body for protection. Fear automatically sends us searching for a hug – even if we don’t realize it.
In studies conducted on self-esteem and fear, research that was published by Psychological Science discovered that touch and hugs significantly reduce worries regarding some pretty serious fears – such as our fear of death. Those studies found that hugging – even if it was hugging something inanimate like a blanket or teddy bear – helped to soothe existential fears.
This doesn’t mean that you should wait until you’re pondering the meaning of life to ask for a hug however. Even seemingly trivial and fleeting fears can be dealt with using a quick squeeze.
If that wasn’t enough, hugging can also help to exchange deep feelings between human beings, allowing for deeper feelings of empathy and understanding thanks to the release of that powerful love hormone – oxytocin. If you hug someone in a time of worry or fear, they’re far more likely to understand you and empathise with you – which could lead to all the support you need for overcoming a difficult moment or experience.
Interestingly, it’s also worth noting that hugging has just as much of a positive impact on the person who is giving the hug, as the person who is being hugged. That’s because the nature of touch is reciprocal. One study has even found that touch alone can be used to read emotions in a person – from fear and anger, to disgust, sympathy, and love – with accuracy readings of up to 83%.
Hugging is Good for the Heart and Body
According to medical studies, hugging can physically improve the health of your heart. In an experiment that was conducted at Chapel Hill, by the University of Northern Carolina – participants who had no contact with their partners developed a faster heart rate of ten beats a minute compared to those who got to hug their partners during the experience. The huggers only had a heartbeat of around five beats per minute.
Of course, the heart-based value of a good hug doesn’t end with the physical response that we experience. Hugging also warms your heart, which can help with issues of worry and depression. Most of the time, a good hug can lead to the release of an increased amount of dopamine in your brain – which automatically boosts your mood. After all, low levels of dopamine are often linked to lack of enthusiasm, depression, and self-doubt.
If you think about a hug in relation to its physical and mental effects, then you should be able to see that they are similar to laughter and mediation. Hugs allow us to let go of the stress that we’re feeling in any given moment, and teach us to be more present in the moment we’re experiencing. A good hug can encourage you to flow with the natural energy of life, and get you to step out of your circular thinking patterns so you can connect with your feelings, your breath, and your heartbeat.
Beside the numerous benefits that hugging has for your heart – it also plays a part in other physiological functions too. For instance, a hug can balance out the nervous system. Your skin contains a network of tiny pressure centres known as Pacinian corpuscles that sense touch and cause the brain to react. The response of someone receiving or giving a hug can change your level of skin conductance – suggesting a more balanced nervous system state.
Research has also shown that hug hormones are involved in immune system functions. In other words, the more hugs you get, the more prepared you’ll be to fight back against illness and disease. A good cuddle not only changes your emotional strength and ensures that you’re ready to fight back against the stresses of the day – it also improves your physical strength too!
Do You Need a Hug?
Whether it’s for relaxation, tension relief, or a need to build stronger human connections – hugging is an essential part of being a functional human being. Did you know that the average person spends around an hour a month hugging? While that might not seem like much, if you consider the fact that each hug is around ten seconds in length – that adds up to a whole lot of cuddles.
Generally, making an effort to hug the people around you – such as your spouse, friends, or family, can ensure that you get a healthy dose of oxytocin every day. However, if you’re not currently in a situation where you can get enough daily hugs – or you still feel as though you could benefit from an extra dose of happiness in your life, it might help to know that there are alternative methods available for getting the emotional stability you need.
Generating a warm and loving relationship with a pet can be a great way to boost your levels of oxytocin – after all – we all love cuddling our cats and dogs. What’s more, there are also various other forms of touch that can improve your oxytocin levels, such as:
- Getting a regular massage
- Holding hands with another person – even just a friend or family member
- Nurturing or looking after other people
- Giving or receiving a back rub
- Kissing and sex
- Practicing regular activities for relaxation and meditation such as yoga or breathing exercises.
Now you know just how much hugging can do for your health, and your body, there’s only one thing left to do – go out there and spread the love!