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As someone who is not particularly “touchy,” the allure of extensive social hugging has never been much of a siren song for me. But according to an increasing number of studies, hugging has some serious benefits. Skeptical? Here are a few reasons why you should do more hugging. Yes, really!
Hugging therapy is definitely a powerful way of healing. Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.
The history of hugging as a social practice seems to have a singular narrative: It’s innate. We hold babies when they’re young, establishing the groundwork almost instantly. The physical act of hugging is protective, intimate, an exchange both physically and emotionally. There’s even an arm of meditation dedicated to the transformative aspects of hugging — “mindful hugging”.
The basic practice is simple: You hug for the span of three breaths. The first honors your presence in the moment; the second honors the other person; and the third is dedicated to the feelings of happiness and gratitude that arise from your togetherness.
The word “hug” arose around the mid-16th century; a widely accepted theory is that originally from Scandinavia and is closely related to the word hugga, Norwegian for “comfort and console.” Even at its core is kindness. I’ll be honest, I’m starting to come around to hugs.
Especially in this current era of violent xenophobia, what sets hugging apart is its role as non-verbal communication. It spans across cultures and languages and backgrounds. It’s free, it’s kind, it’s good, it’s clearly what we need a bit more of. And these added health benefits are nice, too.
Research shows a proper deep hug, where the hearts are pressing together, can benefit you in these ways:
- The nurturing touch of a hug builds trust and a sense of safety. This helps with open and honest communication.
- Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.
- Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
- Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates and stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.
- Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self-love.
- Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.
- Hugs balance out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.
- Hugs teach us how to give and receive. There is equal value in receiving and being receptive to warmth, as to giving and sharing. Hugs educate us how love flows both ways.
- Hugs are so much like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. Hugs get you out of your circular thinking patterns and connect you with your heart and your feelings and your breath.
- The energy exchange between the people hugging is an investment in the relationship. It encourages empathy and understanding. And, it’s synergistic, which means the whole is more than the sum of its parts: 1 1 = 3 or more! This synergy is more likely to result in win-win outcomes.
- Hugging Relaxes Muscles. Let’s start with the external benefits. On a very basic level, the action of hugging can help loosen tight muscles. The result? A release of tension.
- It Can Even Protect Against Heart Disease. Hugging can lower both the heart rate and the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can wreak havoc on your health.
It is important to realize how organic and deep the need for hugs is.