I was always curious of this topic of hugging. I heard negative and positive reviews of this topic and thought it best to tackle this topic with both arms. I have seen how hugs can have positive effects, however in some communities I have found that only certain people would receive hugs and others would not and this always made me wonder why people are selfishly keeping away an amazing benefit that all of us so desperately need. In my own life very few people I know hug me. Are hugs an act that can make one too vulnerable?
I noticed that even though many of us get into friendship groups, we still become very isolated from each other with our computers, computer gaming systems, smart phones and app games. This self-isolation can be a reason why many are not encountering true and close relationships.
When I looked at the required hug amounts that the body needs which according to Neuroeconomist Paul Zak, also known as “Dr. Love,” recommends at least eight hugs a day to be happier and enjoy better relationships. Psychotherapist Virginia Satir also famously said:
We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
I found myself severely lacking in this area. I maybe get 4 hugs a week, if I am hanging with a certain group of friends, which can happen once a week, but then not every week. So what does one do in order to increase their hug intake? Does one wear a “Free Hugs” sign or “Free Hugs” printed t-shirt?
According to research a free hug from a stranger can cause an emotional burden and stress, if someone we don’t know comes too close to us for no apparent reason. This violation of our normal distance-keeping behavior is then generally perceived as disconcerting or even as threatening.
So how does one benefit from hugs health generating benefits? Can a community where you feel good things from that community help? If you find a community authentic and you are willing to have your space invaded, no matter what research says. I feel that eventually one will experience the great benefits from hugging, with maybe some lingering trama…lol.
So what are these great benefits you may ask? The neuropeptide oxytocin, released by your pituitary gland, is a naturally occurring hormone in your body with incredibly powerful, health-giving properties. What are these incredibly powerful, health-giving properties? Oxytocin is known as the Love Hormone and this hormone may have beneficial effects on your heart health and more. The duration seems to matter most.
A 20-second hug, along with 10 minutes of hand-holding, also reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, including its impact on your blood pressure and heart rate. This makes sense, since hugging is known to lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Research suggests there’s even more benefits to be experienced!
As reported by Mail Online:
“The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped pressure centers called Pacinian corpuscles that can sense touch and which are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve winds its way through the body and is connected to a number of organs, including the heart. It is also connected to oxytocin receptors. One theory is that stimulation of the vagus triggers an increase in oxytocin, which in turn leads to the cascade of health benefits.”
This cascade of health benefits can be; Lower risk of heart disease, Stress reduction, Fight fatigue, Boost your immune system, Fight infections, and Ease depression.
There’s no doubt that hugging, caressing, and cuddling feel good. As neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, said in the Huffington Post:7
“A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy… And it doesn’t matter if you’re the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with others — on even the smallest physical level — the happier you’ll be.”
However, many people are touch-deprived. One study found that one-third of people receive no hugs on a daily basis while 75 percent said they wanted more hugs. These findings, along with the emotional and health benefits of human touch, have led to the emergence of cuddle therapy centers, where people can pay for a lunchtime cuddle.
However we come right back to full circle with Hugs from strangers cause stress, so can these cuddle therapy centers really help? Quite possibly people are experiencing negative effects. Cuddling with a spouse or partner has been shown to boost satisfaction in relationships at least one study showed that hugs are only beneficial if trust is involved.
So we find free hugs campaigns, where strangers offer hugs to others, may be perceived as threatening and actually increase emotional burden and stress.
However, proven benefits have been found from cuddling with a pet, which shows hugs don’t have to only be between humans to be beneficial. Even cuddling with your trusted pet may offer significant benefits to your heart and overall health.
Happiness Weekly compiled fun facts about hugging that highlight just how incredible this act of touch really is. A full-body hug stimulates your nervous system while decreasing feelings of loneliness, combating fear, increasing self-esteem, defusing tension, and showing appreciation.
Do you doubt the importance of touch? Then consider that children who aren’t hugged have delays in walking, talking, and reading. A quick hug has a near-immediate impact on health, lowering your heart rate and inducing a calming effect while also leading to a more upbeat mood!
Hugging has just as much a benefit for the person doing the hugging as the person being hugged, revealing the reciprocal nature of touch. Touch is described as a universal language that can communicate distinct emotions with startling accuracy. One study found that touch alone can reveal emotions including anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy, with accuracy rates of up to 83 percent.
Hugs are one of the most succinct ways to encourage your body to release oxytocin, and the more oxytocin your pituitary gland releases, the better able you are to handle life’s stressors. Oxytocin quite likely plays a role in why pet owners heal more quickly from illness, why couples live longer than singles, and why support groups work for people with addictions and chronic diseases.
Oxytocin has also been found to reduce the cravings of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as for sweets. Hugs even has a positive influence on inflammation and wound healing. Even beyond this, regular hugs have the added benefit of:
Cultivating patience and showing appreciation, Stimulating dopamine, the pleasure hormone, and serotonin, for elevated mood, and Balancing out your nervous system for better parasympathetic balance.
Often making a concerted effort to hug the people close to you is one of the best ways to get more hugs in return. This can include your spouse, children, and other family members along with close friends. But even if you’re not currently in a life situation conducive to getting daily hugs and producing enough of your own oxytocin on a regular basis, the good news is there are some alternatives you can use to help you deal in a healthy way with your emotional response to stress and anxiety.
With the already known and still-to-emerge health and quality of life benefits to be derived from the natural release of oxytocin in your body, your best course of action is to make sure you’re cultivating warm, loving, intimate relationships, no matter what stage of life you’re in.
Additionally, if you have a pet, just a few minutes petting your dog or cat can promote the release of your body’s “happiness” hormones, including oxytocin. Since touch anywhere on your body, as well as positive interactions and psychological support, are known to increase oxytocin levels, you might also consider, Holding hands and kissing, Giving and receiving a backrub, Nurturing others, Getting a massage, and Practicing mind-body therapies like breathing exercises and yoga.
So there you have it. If you know the people you are hugging and you trust them, you can enjoy the health benefit! If they are strangers, or you don’t trust them, maybe get to know them better before getting that full body hug!
Thank you for reading!
Neil Saint Angeland
Sources and References
- Happiness Weekly January 19, 2013
- Positive Psychology News March 23, 2012
- Prevent Disease January 23, 2014
- Psychosomatic Medicine July 1, 2005 vol. 67 no. 4 531-538
- Behav Med. 2003 Fall;29(3):123-30.
- Mail Online November 10, 2012
- Comprehensive Psychology 2012, Volume 1, Issue 1
- Huffington Post May 14, 2013
- Mail Online January 22, 2013
- Happiness Weekly January 19, 2013
- Psychology Today March 11, 2013
- 2009 Aug;9(4):566-73.
- Prevent Disease January 23, 2014