Gentle touch assists the release of dopamine and oxytocin, build bonds between people, and amazingly can also protect against infections and even chronic disease… Yes, hugs really are medicine.
So let me explain what I mean by what I just wrote. Touch is one of the oldest traditions of every society on Earth. There is no culture on the planet in which touch is absent. It is the universal language of compassion. So it stands to reason that it’s a critical way to communicate compassion to people who don’t understand words, such as babies or people from foreign countries. So what can hugs really do?
Development: To explore the effects of hugs, a study found solid evidence that children growing up with an absence of touch were negatively affected…For life. These children grew up more likely to have attachment issues, dependency, and developmental delays. Which hints that touch is a very important way of establishing with a child that they are supported enough to try out their independence. An unsupported child will always seek support, even as they become an adult.
Illness: When it comes to looking at older children and adults, another strange result of having an absence of gentle touch came to light… people got physically sick more often. So even outside the brain, the body’s systems were affected by the fact that they weren’t receiving this all-important aspect of their development. The theology goes: Hugs help to prevent the stress hormone cortisol from traveling through the brain. Meaning that people experience less stress. We know from the countless studies and articles exploring the connection between stress and illness, that stress weakens the immune system. So it seems to make sense that hugs prevent cortisol, which means that the immune system isn’t affected by everyday stress so much. The end result is less sickness. Imagine using a hug to beat the Monday blues, instead of a cup of coffee!
No More Fear of Death: This is perhaps the most fascinating thing that I’ve learned about touch, specifically about hugs… They combat the fear of death. Now, I’m sure most of us have thought about death and been scared by the reality of it. It is a very jarring thing to think deeply about, as it puts everything into perspective. I have certainly felt this fear gripping me on many, many occasions. However, hugging regularly or even better cuddling with a partner, can act as a teddy bear for your fear of death. So if you’re ever having an existential crisis, dwelling on it alone is definitely not the way to cope. Seek out a friend, loved one or even a stranger and give them a good squeeze!
How to Start Hugging: Unfortunately it tends to happen that the older you get, the fewer hugs you give and receive. This means that you don’t experience the oxytocin release that this gentle touch brings. Most people definitely don’t get the recommended twelve hugs a day that scientists say is the amount for optimum hormone release. I understand that hugging twelve times a day might be a bit of an out of reach goal for a lot of people. Maybe you live alone, or perhaps it isn’t in the culture to hug anyone apart from close family. Depending on a lot of factors it can be difficult. But here are a few simple suggestions to help get more cuddles into your life.
- Hug as a greeting: In many countries around the world, it’s acceptable, even if it’s not “normal,” to hug as a greeting. So if you do live in one such country, perhaps the only change needed to make hugging more common in your life is to adopt it as your go-to greeting. With strangers, acquaintances, and friends in most countries, nobody will be freaked out by a simple hug…Remember that it benefits them too!
- Hug a TeddyBear: This one is for all the people who live alone or far away from friends or active social gatherings. There is still a solution! It may not be as effective as hugging a real person and feeling that connection to them. However, hugging even simple objects can relieve stress, anxiety, and fear. So use the strategy you used as a child and take comfort in a soft toy, blanket or even something like a tree.
- Therapy: Finally, you could try finding a treatment or service for wellbeing which involves touch. Think massages, psychotherapists, or chiropractics. All of these options incorporate touch into treatment for a specific thing, e.g muscle tightness. So think of it as getting twice the bang for your buck when you go to one of these therapies. Massages are my favorite of these options because I find them incredibly mentally relaxing, but find what works best for you. I am sure they will all have the same wonderful effect!
So hugging really does have the power to change your life for the better. If that isn’t reason enough to start incorporating more hugs into your day than I don’t know what is. Through hugs, the benefits go both ways physically, a connection is brought to people of all walks of life, and they can help you feel more at peace with your life. So what are you waiting for, go out and try this new greeting, find a cozy soft toy, or treat yourself to a little therapeutic touch.
Photo: NeONBRAND – Unsplash; Gabby Orcutt – Unsplash; Sharon Mccutcheo – Unsplash; Xan Griffin – Unsplash.