No doubt hugging makes us feel good. It’s universally comforting, and it turns out that hugging has been proven to make us healthier and happier. Studies show that hugging can be effective at curbing loneliness and anxiety. We usually hug others when we’re excited, happy, sad or trying to comfort them.
Embracing someone can boost both your mental and physical health as well. According to scientists, the benefits of hugging go beyond that warm feeling you get when you hold someone in your arms. Science has proven that regular hugs with those closest to you, even if brief, can have positive effects on your brain and body. They are also particularly important in child development.
Hugging therapy is also a powerful way of healing. Research shows that hugging as well as laughter is effective at healing sickness, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress. So, if you want to feel better about yourself and be happier and healthier, start seeking out hugs from the friends and family members closest to you.
According to family therapists, we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth. While that may sound a lot of hugs, it seems that many hugs are always better than not enough.
Here are some of the ways a proper hug can benefit you:
Hugs improve communication with others: Touch is the first of our senses to develop in the womb, and it reaches maturity well before the other senses. Thus, interpersonal touching such as hugging plays an important role in emotional well-being. The nurturing touch of a hug builds trust and a sense of safety. It helps you communicate your feelings in a way that words can’t, and this helps with open and honest communication.
Hugs reduce stress-related illnesses: Hugs can heal feelings of loneliness, isolation and anger. Scientists say that giving another person support through touch can reduce the stress of the person being comforted. It can even reduce the stress of the person doing the comforting.
Frequent hugs reduced your susceptibility to stress. Researchers have found that people who experienced hugs more frequently were less likely to get sick and that even if they did their symptoms were less intense.
Hugs increase physical performance: A recent study has found that athletes perform better when they show physical comradery such as hugging. The study found that teams that showed the most touch-bonding were among the highest ranking and best performing. It also found that hugging has a measurable ability to decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Having a friendly touch buffers the physiological consequences of the stress response.
Hugs boost heart health and reduce blood pressure: A study published in the US scientific journal Biological Psychology has revealed that more frequent hugs are related to higher oxytocin levels and lower baseline blood pressure. Oxytocin is a hormone often named the cuddle hormone because it’s related to important aspects of relationships such as trust, devotion and bonding. Hugging releases oxytocin in the brain, helping you to bond and strengthen interpersonal relationships. An increased amount of oxytocin is also associated with better heart health. Frequent partner hugging enhances cardiovascular health and therefore potentially reduces the risk of heart disease.
Hugs elevate mood and create happiness: Hugging can make things look much brighter even in unpleasant situations. Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness. Hugs are also like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. A recent study has found that receiving a hug following a conflict can help with squelching bad feelings. Hugs provide a buffer for the deleterious psychological effects that the stress caused by fighting with someone else can have on our mood.
Hugs strengthen the immune system: Research has shown that gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge it creates activates the solar plexus chakra, an important element in traditional Indian medicine. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates the body’s production of white blood cells that keep you healthy and disease-free.
Hugs boost self-esteem: Hugs connect us to our ability to self-love. When we’re born, our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are imbedded in our nervous systems as adults. The cuddles we received from our parents while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of them.
Hugs educate you on how love flows both ways: Hugs teach us how to give and to receive. The energy-exchange between people hugging is an investment in a relationship, and it encourages empathy and understanding.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.