For decades we’ve known that babies won’t thrive without physical holding and affection. There is little that will comfort or reassure small children as well as a hug from a loved one. Yet, it is not uncommon for parents to stop hugging their kids as they reach puberty.
For many adults, the amount of physical nurturing they receive declines as they age, even as medical studies confirm that the health benefits of physical touch extend throughout our lives.
A heart to heart hug can have significant benefits on our health and happiness in the following ways:
A heart warming hug increases the feeling of safety, security, trust and belonging. These are the foundations of all healthy relationships. Research has shown that relationships in which hugging and touching are present tend to be stronger and longer lasting.
Gulledge et. al. in Psychology Today say, “Touch is crucial in creating and strengthening romantic relationships. Tactile physical affection is highly correlated with overall relationship and partner satisfaction. Moreover, conflict resolution is easier with more physical affection—conflicts are resolved more easily with increased amounts of hugging, cuddling/holding, and kissing on the lips.”
When we hug or kiss a loved one, our oxytocin levels rev up. This powerful hormone has the ability to alleviate social anxiety and produce feelings of trust. It also has the peripheral ability to reduce stress.
Oxytocin has been observed to reduce cortisol in the body and lower blood pressure. Gallace and Spence, state that women who report having received more hugs from their partners in the past have been shown to have significantly lower blood pressure levels than those women who do not have much history of being hugged by their partners. Accordingly, affectionate physical behavior can lower reactions to stressful life events.
Serotonin is often called the ‘Happiness hormone’.
Physical touch can increase serotonin levels. Serotonin helps regulate dopamine. Dopamine can lead to aggressive and sometimes violent behavior. Whereas, elevated serotonin levels create periods of happiness.
Health Keepers Magazine states that everyone needs hugs and touching to maintain serotonin levels, so hug friends, loved ones and even your pet, often.
When you are in a deep heart to heart hug with someone you love, it is very difficult not to relax. When you relax, you lessen the tension in your body.
Hsin-Yung Chen et al. have found that deep touch pressure (DTP), which is often provided by holding, stroking, hugging, swaddling, and squeezing, can calm people who are anxious and thereby improve their coping behavior.
From the instant of our birth tactile sensations are imbedded in our nervous system. Then during our childhood the loving hugs and cuddles that we receive develop into our sense of self-worth which we carry into adulthood at a cellular level. That is why when we are feeling down, unsure of ourself or confused a hug can often transform those feelings back to one of self-worth and a positive attitude.
Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. reports, “more touch, more oxytocin, more trust.”
Hugging provides manual stimulation of the parasympathetic system.
A hug can restore the balance in our nervous system.
Many people live in a constant state of high alert and high anxiety which puts the sympathetic nervous system on alert. When this happens the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a calm and relaxed state is under active.
By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system in a hug, we can restore balance. With the balance restored, we naturally slow down our pace of life and feel calmer.
In a recent article published in Psychology Today titled “The Power of Touch,” DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein demonstrated that we have an innate ability to decode emotions via touch alone.
Scientists used to believe touching was simply a means of enhancing messages signalled through speech or body language, “but,” Hertenstein says, “it seems instead that touch is a much more nuanced, sophisticated, and precise way to communicate emotion.”
The actual number of hugs a human needs varies according to which statistics one pursues. Some say, “several times a day”; others suggest “five hugs daily”. An article in “The Telegraph” suggests that four hugs a day are apparently “the secret to a happy marriage”.
The frequently quoted psychotherapist, Virginia Satir, says, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
Have you had your quota of hugs today?
Featured photo credit: Alex & Ashley/Caitlin Regan via flickr.com
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