“Sometimes, you just need a hug”. This may be one of the most repeated sayings of popular wisdom, but, in fact, science shows that there is a lot of truth to this sentence. Sadly, during the Coronavirus pandemic the majority of us have been strongly advised not to embrace friends, family or loved-ones. The pandemic has lead to increased levels of depression and anxiety and one of the simplest things we could do to ease that pain – share a hug – has been denied to us.
Over the past year many of us have realised just how important personal affection and touch is. During 'regular' life, in our pursuit of happiness we usually focus on things like personal development, health and relationships with others. But sometimes, we place too much importance on long-term goals, and we overlook the power of smaller but equally effective things. One of those things is the benefit of hugging others and how this gesture contributes to our overall well-being.
Indeed, as hugging is so important to our happiness and well-being, let's explore seven of the main benefits of hugging and the role this gesture plays in improving our physical and mental health. As you'll discover, embracing friends and family – even strangers – is a powerful healing tool, so we encourage you to enjoy it as soon as it's safe to do so.
One of the most obvious benefits of hugging is stress reduction. You only need to think about how much of a relief you feel when you’re stressed and receive a genuine hug. The science confirms this too: a 2010 study from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that participants were better able to cope with physical pain and stress related to unpleasant situations if they were arm in arm with their partners.
More recent research from 2018 suggests that hugs act as a buffer against negative experiences. Michael L. M. Murphy, Denise Janicki-Deverts, and Sheldon Cohen from the University of Pittsburgh carried out a study involved just over 400 adults. The results showed that unhappy or negative experiences – the kind that might normally ruin our day – actually become much easier to deal with when we receive a hug from a loved one.
The negative effects of fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem can also be reduced by hugging or being hugged. Research from the VU University Amsterdam has found this to be true even when a hug is reduced to a one-second pat on the back or to touching an inanimate object, such as a teddy bear. “Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” explained lead researcher Sander Koole.
Interestingly, some believe that many people are touch deprived and that’s precisely why they experience low mood or anxiety. In this scenario, the powerful benefits of hugging become obvious.
Last but not least, one of the benefits of hugging is that it increases the production of oxytocin, one of the happiness hormones which is responsible for creating that warm fuzzy feeling. The levels of oxytocin in our body rise when we touch or are physically close to someone, and this has been shown to prompt bonding and make us more trusting. Research is still ongoing on the powerful effect of oxytocin in our body, mind, and emotions. For now, why not enjoy that oxytocin rush that comes after giving a hug?
In an increasingly touch-averse world, physical contact can be a fantastic mood booster. The benefits of hugging range from better heart health to a higher ability to cope with pain, stress, low mood, and disease. Hugs also communicate positive emotions and contribute to our happiness by strengthening our bonds with others. So, if you’ve just missed National Hugging Day, why not consider turning every day into a hugging day? ●
A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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