Give us a hug.

Today is National Hugging Day!

Did you know that there are actual scientific physical and mental benefits to hugging?  Before you back away thinking “Ew, people”, have a look at what you can get from a hug.

Protection from infection

But hugs are all contact and germy – how can they help protect from infection??

400 healthy adults had to record the number of hugs they received over two weeks and were then exposed to the common cold virus.  They were then quarantined and monitored to see what happened.  Those with the highest number of hugs were less likely to catch the cold, and the ones who did catch it had less severe symptoms than the low huggers.

Reduce stress

Giving another person a hug during stress can reduce both the stress of the person needing comfort, and the stress of the person doing the hugging. Within a 20 second hug there is a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. Hugs help our thoughts to wind down and calm us. This can also be seen in the mutually benefitial effects of volunteering.

Lower Blood Pressure

Studies have shown that if people are performing a stressful task, a hug, or even holding hands, can lower blood pressure and heart rate.  Hugs elevate oxytocin in the brain, the chemical associated with love, empathy, and trust – building strong relationships. Even if you can’t get a hug right away, call your mum.  It can have the same oxytocin effects as a hug.

More brain chemicals

So, we have already mentioned cortisol and oxytocin, but there are more chemicals stimulated by hugs.  Dopamine is the hormone linked to the reward parts of the brain.  Hugging increases dopamine production, giving us the feeling of success and pleasure.  The other hormone involved is serotonin.  Serotonin is linked with mood balance and having low serotonin levels can cause depression.  Hugs boost serotonin levels and can go towards helping fight depression.

Keep heart rate down

100 adults watched a pleasant video whilst hugging or holding hands.  Another group watched the same video alone.  They were then asked to recount a stressful event.

Those in the hugging group maintained significantly lower blood pressure than the non-contact group.  The non-contact people had heart rates increase by 10 beats a minute, whereas the cuddlers were just 5 beats a minute.

Why do we cuddle less as we get older?

We instinctively know that we need this physical contact when we are children, even 70 years ago Harry Harlow found that baby monkeys would choose comfort over food, so why do we stop as we get older? 

Maybe it is time to take a step back and rethink our attitude to hugs and social touching.  In the UK half a million people go at least 5 days without even seeing or speaking to someone, so how much longer is it without a hug or any physical contact?

Juan Mann began the Free Hugs Campaign because he knew that sometimes, you just need a hug.

Just remember to check before diving in there, despite all the benefits of hugs, some people may just not want one!

Sources: 1, 2 , 3 , 4 , 5

More feel-good science? Check out the healing power of chocolate, the power of conversation, the benefits of walking, the importance of taking a break, fixing bad habits and self compassion.

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