Bring it in… come on… you know you want to
My mom is a hugger. Doesn’t matter if you are her friend of 40 years, or the nice young man she has been chatting with at the checkout line in the grocery store. If you are interacting with my mom, you are about to get a hug. She has always been affectionate, but the hugging thing has ramped up a few notches the last few years. I can safely predict with total certainty that if she is interacting with other humans in the course of a day, there are hugs going around. Yea, you know people like that, you say. Huggers. But here is where I take your hugger and raise you… she’s a heart hugger. In other words, she will make sure your heart and hers will align during this hug, and you will be held for more than just a couple pats on the back. I’m telling you – you need to brace yourself. If you are somewhat reserved and awkward hugging strangers, this could get a little uncomfortable. But my mom is not a nut. Actually, she’s onto something. So are many scientists who are increasingly aware of the health benefits of social connectedness; even hugs, specifically, as an action with measurable benefits.
The magic word here is oxytocin. The action of hugging produces this lovely chemical in our bodies. Especially if it’s a good hug. It’s the same chemical that nursing mothers produce, often called the “love hormone”. Oxytocin not only gives you an oooey-gooey warm fuzzy, but also has been proven to lower stress, improve blood pressure, and even boosting your immune system.(1) Studies in premenopausal women and their partners have shown a direct correlation in surges of oxytocin from the act of hugging and cuddling, and subsequently, a correlating reduction in stress hormones and blood pressure.(2) Related medical studies have gone a step further and found connections between frequent hugs and positive health benefits, including but not limited to a stronger immune system. The thinking is that stress is connected to a compromised immune system and the hugs help keep the stress levels down. There is also a strong element of social connectedness that hugging provides. In the world of longevity, social connectedness is one of the most determining factors of how well humans do. (3)
So can I say that hugs are actually healthy? You bet. Can I claim you are likely to get a boost of oxytocin that will feel good? Uh huh. Should I purport that you may enjoy a boost to your immune system? In most people, yes. Might the hug help your stress levels and overall sense of well being? Most likely. Will you get a long, heart hug from my mom if I introduce you to her? 100% certain.
- Kasley Killiam. Scientific American. A Hug a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.
- Biological Psychology. Volume 69, Issue 1, Pages 5-21 (April 2005). Accessed via http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/03010511/69/1?sdc=1
- Dr. Emma Seppala. Connectedness and Health: The Science of Social Connection. Stanford Medicine. The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. May 8, 2014. http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/
Need a little visual motivation? Here are some animals that get the value of a good hug.
Not sure of your technique? Check out this funny instructional video. “How to Give a Good Hug”