The Power of a Hug

As kids, we can all remember the beauty of getting a big bear hug from our parents. A hug is like a fuzzy, warm blanket thrown around our shoulders on a chilly day. A hug can instantly change our mood, from dreary to dazzling. A hug is absolutely free-of-charge, and provides an instantaneous boost of self-worth to the receiver. With all these feel-good effects of hugging, no matter what your age, wait until you learn of the power of a hug in promoting well-being!

The Power of a Hug in Promoting Well-being Will Astound You

The simple act of hugging has been associated with a multitude of positive health benefits. Hugs stimulate the “love hormone,” oxytocin, which is released by the pituitary gland. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that influences the brain’s emotion network, helping to promote feelings of trust, bonding, and intimacy. In turn, a whole domino effect of health benefits, both physical and psychological, result, improving our overall feelings of wellbeing. Oxytocin seems to mitigate the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, resulting in a more relaxed state. What follows are an array of positive health benefits, including:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved immune system
  • More resistant to infections
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Decreased cravings for alcohol or drugs
  • Improved mood

Just one ten second hug a day has health benefits, including easing depressed mood, resisting or fighting infections, and boosting the immune system.

How Hugging Improves the Mood of Both Giver and Receiver

It turns out that hugging is an equal opportunity gesture. Both the receiver and the giver of the hug experience mood benefits from hugging. Hugs can stimulate both dopamine and serotonin, which are brain chemicals associated with the response and reward system in the brain. When we give and receive a hug, the vagus nerve is stimulated, which runs through the body and connects with various organs. The resulting calming effect is experienced throughout the body and positively impacts mood by reducing anxiety and depression.

Hugging has reciprocal benefits for both parties, including creating a sense of connection, decreasing feelings of loneliness or fear, and creating a feeling of appreciation between the parties. Hugs can also act as an instrument of communication, as people often are able to pick up the emotional state of the other person through a hug, such as their feelings of gratitude, anger, sympathy, or love.

The Power of Human Touch

Much research has been done on the topic of babies and the need for physical touch in infancy. A very famous study on Romanian orphans in the late 1990s, and reported on the CBS news program, 60 Minutes, showed how a lack of maternal connection, including an absence of physical contact and nurturing, resulted in children who had serious developmental and psychological disorders. A recent update of these children, published by the American Psychological Association, reveals just how extensive the after effects due to lack of physical touch are, with regard to attachment and emotional health. Some of those effects include poor impulse control, social withdrawal, lack of coping skills, poor academic achievement, and pathological behaviors.

People thrive on physical touch. Whether it is a simple handshake or a full-body hug, the effects of touch on the psyche are immense. Through touch we humans cultivate feelings of trust, patience, intimacy, and compassion. Touch is pleasurable and comforting, which contributes to our feelings of overall well-being.

When Hugs Are Not Readily Available

Now that we know the many benefits of hugging, what does a person do when they are not in a situation where hugs are plentiful? There are some nice alternatives to hugging that can also reduce stress, improve relaxation, and garner positive health results because of that. These might include:

  • Getting a massage. Massage therapy can be deeply satisfying, contributing to intense feelings of relaxation and reduction of muscle tension, all while enjoying human touch.
  • Getting a pet. Much has been written about the mind and body heath benefits of owning a pet. Having a pet to caress and who loves you unconditionally aids in stress-reduction and improves quality of life.
  • Getting a pedicure. Getting a deluxe pedicure includes such pampering as a foot and calf massage, hot oil treatments, and special lotions that can result in mood boosting and relaxation.

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