Give A Hug!
There is a man at the farmer’s market in Denver. He stands with his arms wide open and a smile on his face. He calls out, “Free Hugs!” Most people skirt around him. Others watch curiously when someone takes him up on his offer. Everyone watching smiles. I am a big lover and I will never turn down the chance to hug someone – even a stranger. So I walked right into his arms. I could feel myself relax as we held each other. I smiled. He smiled. Then I reluctantly broke away from the hugger and thought to myself that he was doing a really great thing for mankind. We passed some love and affection between us. Shouldn’t we all be doing that all the time?
The thing is, hugging is really good for us. Physical contact is a basic human need and has many beneficial effects on your health.
Hugging can provide great relief for conditions like anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress. Touch is an important part of our lives! Hugging has been shown to decrease reactivity to stress, lower the risk of contracting an infectious illness, lower the heart rate and the blood pressure, and increase the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel good.
More Touch = Less Stress
We all start off being held in utero and then as babies, since we are unable to care for ourselves, we are constantly touched. Research suggests that touching an infant improves their sleep quality, decreases their stress levels, increases attachments to others, and has a calming effect.
These benefits do not end in childhood. As we age, we touch and get touched less often, but we need it just as much as ever. Social isolation contributes to increased stress levels, loneliness, and depression, all of which affect the cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems. Hugging can combat all of this.
Hugging Makes You Feel Love
When you hug, you release oxytocin, a hormone that influences the emotional center of the brain. Increased levels of oxytocin make you feel safe, comfortable, and happy. It also reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels, staves off fear, and decreases anxiety.
Oxytocin is also released during orgasm, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Research shows that couples who hug more often stay together longer. Why? Because oxytocin is a powerful love hormone. As levels of oxytocin rise, so does your sex drive. So hugging can actually increase your libido. What a great gift!
A Hug a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Hugging can keep you healthier. While the reasons are not well understood, researchers found that hugging can actually improve immune function. It may be that hugging stimulates the thymus gland to make more white blood cells, which fight off pathogenic invaders. When people are hugged regularly, they are less susceptible to contracting infectious illnesses such as colds.
Hugging is Good for Your Heart
The calming effects of a hug have to do with the cascade of calming hormones that are released during physical contact. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and serotonin, are stress-reducing hormones. In addition to making you feel better emotionally, they also lower cortisol levels, slow the heart rate, and even lower blood pressure.
The cardiovascular system is a complex system of pumps and vessels. It is important to know that your physical heart is greatly affected by the physical effects of your emotions. Reaching out and hugging someone really is good for the heart.
Gift a Hug!
Hugging has such a powerful effect on us and so many of us are deprived of physical touch. During this season of gift giving, I cannot think of a better way to show your affection to your family and friends.
Hug often and without hesitation. Put your full intention into holding another person with love in your heart and you will both reap the benefits. We all need more love in our lives. Hug freely!