Whether you’re wrapped in your partner’s arms, cuddling your kid, or welcoming a friend, hugs have a way to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. They make you feel secure and protected. But have you learned this touching act is also an incredibly powerful wellbeing booster?
We’ve known for decades that babies will not survive without physical support and love. There’s little that can inspire or console little kids as well as a hug or kiss from a loved one. Nevertheless, parents aren’t unusual to stop hugging their children when they reach puberty. For many adults the amount of physical contact they receive decreases as they age, even as medical studies suggest that physical touch’s health benefits continue across our lives. A heart-to-heart hug can have significant benefits in the following ways to our mental and physical health and happiness:
Hugs will boost your self-esteem
From the moment we are born the touch of our family tells us that we are loved and very special. In our childhood, the caring cuddles we earn grow into our sense of self-worth that we take to cellular adulthood. Although adults, the perceptions of self-worth and physical stimuli from our early years remain rooted in our nervous system. That’s why when we feel uncertain or unsure about ourselves, a hug can often convert those feelings back into one of self-worth and a positive attitude.
Hugs make relationships stronger
A good hug enhances the sense of security, trust, and belonging. These are the foundation of all healthy relationships. Evidence has shown that relationships that are involved in hugging and touching appear to be stronger and longer-lasting. The exchange of energy between the hugging people is an expenditure in the connection. This promotes understanding and empathy. And the whole reaches the sum of its parts: 1 + 1 = 3 or more! Win-win results then longer-lasting relationships are more likely to result in that.
Hugs can reduce stress
When going into a stressful situation, getting a good hug will help you relax and calm down a bit. The hug might even help you stay calm, cool, and collected throughout the event. The reason for that is that our oxytocin levels go up when we hug or kiss a loved one. This powerful hormone is often referred to as “the bonding hormone,” because it promotes relationship attachment, including between mothers and their newborn babies.
Oxytocin is made primarily in the brain’s hypothalamus, and some of it is released through the pituitary gland into the bloodstream. But some of it remains in the brain, where mood, behavior, and physiology have an influence. It can ease social anxiety and produce feelings of confidence. It also can reduce stress at the periphery.
Hugs can lower heart disease risk
The hormones released into the body after a hug are not only good for a happy feeling they can help your physical health as well. When someone touches you, the sensation on your skin activates pressure receptors called Pacinian corpuscles, which then sends signals to the vagus nerve, a brain area responsible for lowering blood pressure (among many things).
The human-to-human contact also lowers the stress hormone cortisol levels in your body. And that in turn helps to ease the blood flow and reduce your heart rate.
Coughing may boost immunity
People who are under stress and in conflict with others are more susceptible to viruses such as the common cold. Carnegie Mellon University researchers set out to determine if social support, such as hugging, could be protective against such infections in turn.
It turns out their hypothesis had been correct. Those with greater social support and more frequent hugs during conflicts were less likely to “catch” a cold after being exposed to the virus among 404 adults. The hugs were responsible for about one-third of the protective effect, researchers have said.
Hugging is important also for adults
Physical touch and hugging can fight loneliness feelings that come up as people get older. A New York retirement home conducted a study in which they implemented a program called’ Embraceable You.’ The idea was to encourage intergenerational contact and touch between residents and staff members to improve the well-being of residents.
The findings were definitive, with residents getting more stamina, feeling less stressed, more able to concentrate, and more restful sleep than their less-hugged counterparts being kissed or embraced three or more times a day.