Hugs have been an important part of our social interaction and expression since ancient times.
Research now indicates there are significant health benefits to having a daily dose of hugging, including improved mood and psychological health.
Hugging can also help to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the risk of serious diseases such as stroke and heart disease.
Are You a Hugger?
What do hugs mean to you? When was the last time you had a really good, wrapped-up bear hug? How did it make you feel?
Unless it’s an uninvited hug from someone you’re not so comfortable with—which can be a bit awkward on occasion—there’s generally no downside to hugging. It’s like an additive and preservative free all-natural pick me up!
I have to admit; I’m a hugger, and I’m proud. I love hugs! Whether it’s from my family or my friends, brought about by a greeting or farewell, to congratulate someone or to soothe a mishap, hugs are just great.
If you live in the Portland area of Oregon, you can even buy hugs from a hugging shop there! If you happen to have $70 or so to spare, you can treat yourself to a whole hour of non-sexual hugs.
But have you ever wondered why? There’s now scientific evidence to help explain exactly why hugs feel so good, and what they can do to improve our health.
We decided to explore what’s in a hug, how they affect us physically and psychologically, and explain exactly why we need more hugs in our lives!
What’s In A Hug?
A hug, as most of us know, is physical contact—usually taking someone or something in between your arms. Hugs can happen between two people, or one person and an animal or inanimate object. Examples include a pet or a teddy bear—before anyone starts thinking about tree huggers or any kind of weird hugging fetish!
We may think one hug is the same as another, but in fact there are lots of different variables, such as hand and arm position, body position, pressure and the amount of body contact. How it works out can be down to chance or to one or other of the parties indicating their intentions.
Some hugs function so that one arm of each person goes underneath and the opposite arm over the top; the classic wrap around hug, but people can still opt to encircle the other person by joining their hands, pat or rub the back or grasp a shoulder with one hand.
Body position can vary from side by side, facing towards each other and facing in the same direction in the case of a hug from behind. Pressure can be light and delicate or a strong and powerful embrace, and body contact can range from barely touching at the cheek and neck to full body contact with the cheek, neck and arms, down through the torso and legs.
Hugs can happen while participants are seated, standing, or lying down between people who are particularly close, such as partners and children.
#1 Hug Your Way to Happiness
Research studies indicate that hugs increase the amount of serotonin and dopamine in the bloodstream. These hormones help to improve general mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Some research shows that even the briefest of touches can help to significantly reduce anxiety in adults, and elevated levels of dopamine and serotonin are both associated with lower stress levels, improved mood and decreased risk of depression.
#2 Hugging Relieves Pain
The production and release of another hormone has also been associated with hugging. Oxytocin is the hormone released during childbirth, and is one of our strongest natural pain killers.
Some research indicates that hugging increases the amount of oxytocin in circulation, which can help to reduce general aches and pains and boost our general feeling of well-being.
One study found that oxytocin significantly decreased perceived pain levels in healthy male subjects in response to a painful stimulus.
#3 Help Your Heart With a Hug
The American Heart Association reports high blood pressure as one of the main predicting factors in heart attacks and strokes.
When we hug another person the physical contact, particularly the pressure receptors, feed information back to the brain. Scientists have found that the action of hugging has a soothing effect on the body, helping to relax muscles. This in turn reduces the pressure in the veins which reduces blood pressure.
Not only this, some trials have shown that the heart rates of people who were constantly hugged decreased dramatically. This reduces that amount of work the heart has to do to supply the body with nutrients on the circulating blood, which can also reduce the risk of heart disease and could increase life span.
#4 Boost Your Immune System
The immune system plays a vital role in protecting us against diseases, bacterial and viral infections. The common cold is one of the most persistent threats to the immune system, and symptoms can make us feel downright miserable.
Research from Carnegie Mellon University indicates that people who participate in regular hugging are less likely to get a cold. In addition, the hugging participants who did catch a cold had less severe symptoms and recovered significantly quicker than people who didn’t hug regularly.
#5 Improve Self-Esteem
Hugs are a way of showing people we care about them. It’s an instinctive reaction for many people in response to someone sharing good news, bad news or personal feelings.
The action of someone wanting to give us a hug makes us feel that we matter, which can help to build self-esteem.
Hugging has positive effects for both parties; even if you’re the one offering the hug, the acceptance of your hug and the physical contact that occurs helps to boost how we feel about ourselves, too.
#6 Build Trust
Another effect of the hormone oxytocin is that it helps to increase feelings of attachment or connection to another person, increasing the level of intimacy between you and building trust.
#7 Establish and Maintain Healthy Relationships
Hugging has been found in research to have profound effects on the health of babies and children as they grow and develop.
One analytical research review found caring touches had positive effects on cognition and language development, motor reflexes, physiological health, social, personal and overall development.
Various studies have shown that regularly receiving emotional support, including hugging, as a child is associated with a high level of emotional stability in adult life. Regular hugging can also increase a young person’s capacity to cope well under stress, and helps them to develop successful personal relationships.
#8 Reduce Fear
Children are great windows to normal human behavior. They generally act more instinctively, and are less conditioned than adults. When we consider the actions of a child who’s threatened by a situation in which they feel afraid, many children will choose to hug a favorite soft toy or blanket for comfort.
Hugging stimulates a feeling of protection and can help to reduce feelings of fear—and related feelings, such as failure, loneliness and grief—to a minimum. This enables us to manage fearful situations in a more productive way, and can even help to calm existential fears.
Hugging is a widely accepted form of social interaction which many people recognize helps make them feel good. More than this, however, hugging has further impressive tangible benefits.
Taking part in regular hugging can improve our mood and general well-being, and can decrease the risk of depression, lower anxiety and stress levels.
Hugging can be an effective analgesic, decreases blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, boosts the immune system and helps to improve our self-esteem, calm fears, build trust and cement relationships.
While there are many different variables that can make up a hug, physical contact ranging from a brief, light touch to a full body contact bear hug all has beneficial effects on our health.
So hugging definitely gets the green light. It’s incredibly beneficial for our health in many ways, so get out there and get hugging! Just one word of warning, though. If you’re planning to go off and hug some strangers, please remember that hugs can build intimacy, so don’t forget to set the rules in stone first!