Have you ever wondered why you feel so damned good after a nice, long hug? No, not those awkward ‘tent’ hugs that you give your Auntie Gladys, where your upper bodies touch briefly, while your lower halves maintain a polite distance. I’m referring to those long, relaxed, full-body hugs where time seems to stand still and your heart overflows with love and gratitude. The kind of hug you’ve probably only experienced with someone you love deeply, such as your partner or spouse.
The fact is, human contact is essential for the healthy functioning of our minds and bodies. Touch is the first of our five senses to develop. Touch is so vital to life that babies who are not held, nuzzled and hugged enough can actually die.
A recent study, conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, suggested a hugging duration of 20-seconds, in order to take advantage of the full range of benefits I’m about to share with you. For most people, who may never have hugged someone for more than a few seconds, this may feel like a long time. You may feel pretty uncomfortable trying this out at first. Do it anyway. Trust me on this one.
- The Hug That Made Me Cry
- 7 Mind-Blowing, Scientific Benefits Of Hugging
- Let’s Hug More
The Hug That Made Me Cry
In 2015, I attended a workshop in the beautiful city of Barcelona. The workshop was designed to help me improve how I relate to women and, ultimately, to myself. After four days of challenging exercises that pushed me completely outside my comfort zone, I was still paralyzed by fear at the thought of starting a conversation with a beautiful woman on the street. Self-doubt raced through my mind. I just couldn’t see myself having the required courage, freeing myself of the fear of rejection.
Suddenly, I just let go. Shifting my attention from my doubting mind down into my yearning heart-space, I walked with presence and new-found confidence down La Rambla, a busy tourist strip in the city centre. I was drawn, almost magnetically, to a beautiful woman I noticed on the street. I instantly knew that I just had to meet her. It took every bit of courage I possessed, but I approached her and initiated a conversation.
We spent the rest of the day together, exploring the fascinating architecture of Gaudi. When it was time to part ways, we embraced with a hug. I could feel her warm body and the steady rhythm of her heartbeat as her body pressed against mine. Time-stood still. I felt like I was teleported into another world. I started to feel a powerful energy fill my heart-space and radiate throughout the rest of my body. It was almost as if I had been asleep my entire life and my body suddenly awoke to a bright, sunny morning!
I felt so connected, loved and appreciated, all from a simple hug! This was something I had never experienced before. No words were needed between us. I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. I tried to hold them back, but my efforts were futile. I bawled like a little kid. It wasn’t that I was upset, far from it. These were tears of sheer happiness. Honestly, I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me and how amazing I felt. I will never forget that moment! It firmly cemented in my brain just how strongly a heartfelt hug can impact a person, both physically and emotionally.
7 Mind-Blowing, Scientific Benefits Of Hugging
We all know, intuitively, that hugging helps us feel more relaxed, loved and accepted. Unfortunately, in today’s society, there seems to be a lot of fear and judgement around body-to-body contact with anyone other than your partner or spouse, especially in public.
In an effort to dissolve this fear and encourage you to increase the frequency and duration of the hugs you give to your friends, family and even total strangers, I’ve uncovered some fascinating science that demonstrates the plethora of benefits we receive simply from hugging each other. Hopefully, this will help you realize the importance of hugging and inspire you to hug more!
1 – Hugging Helps Reduces Stress
A survey by The American Psychological Association (December 2017) revealed that 75% of Americans reported that they had experienced at least one stress symptom in the last month. Stress is the number one cause of most people’s unhappiness and ill-health, not just in the US, but all over the world.
When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, triggering a fight-or-flight response. Under stress, our brains release the hormone cortisol, preparing our bodies to respond to the perceived threat in the environment. When cortisol levels remain elevated for extended periods of time, this may lead to high blood pressure, damage to muscle tissue, inhibition of growth, suppression of the immune system, and damage to mental health.
Conversely, when we embrace another human with a hug, our brain releases the “love” hormone, oxytocin, and it gets pumped throughout our bodies. This hormone acts on our limbic systems to make us feel calmer, more relaxed and less stressed.
Matt Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University describes oxytocin as promoting feelings of devotion, trust and bonding, and says it lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people. Hugging has an immediately noticeable effect on reducing anxiety, through the release of oxytocin, which down-regulates your stress response.
2 – Hugging Lowers Blood Pressure
Our largest organ, the skin, covers about 20 square feet, which is about the size of a twin mattress. When we hug someone, the pressure receptors on our skin receive stimulation that sends electrical signals to the brain.
These signals get fed directly to an important nerve bundle deep in the brain called the vagus nerve, which has branches that meander throughout the body to several internal organs, including the heart. It’s the vagus nerve that slows the heart down and decreases blood pressure when you hug another person.
3 – Hugging Boosts Our Immune System
The gentle pressure exerted on our sternum when we hug someone, combined with the higher emotional frequency radiated in the electromagnetic field around our bodies during a hug, activates the solar plexus energy centre. This, in turn, stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, keeping you healthy and disease free.
4 – Hugging Improves Our Mood
Serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters because of the dramatic impact it has on our mood. It is often called the “feel good” hormone because it helps us feel happy, relaxed and confident. It also controls your appetite, and regulates your mood.
This is why so many anti-depressant drugs focus on increasing the production of serotonin. Why get yourself hooked on antidepressants? There is an easier way to boost this powerful hormone, naturally – hugging! Serotonin is released into the body and has an immediate effect on our mood and how we feel, helping negate sadness and increase pleasure!
5 – Hugging Balances The Nervous System
There are two main operating systems we run on day-to-day. The parasympathetic, and sympathetic nervous systems. Our sympathetic nervous system gets activated when we are stressed or perceive some kind of threat in our environment. So if we want to balance our mind and body, we must rely on our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, recovery and digestion.
When we hug someone we apply pressure to a large part of our bodies, which triggers the pressure sensors on our skin, thereby activating our parasympathetic nervous system. When this system is operating, we are able to restore energy, repair our body and shift into a more balanced state.
Combine the working of the parasympathetic nervous system with elevated feelings of love, compassion and gratitude, together with the oxytocin and serotonin release in your brain during a hug, and it’s no surprise that a good hug leaves you feeling happy, relaxed and content with the world.
6 – Hugging Shifts Your Body and Mind Into a Coherent State
Did you know that your heart has its own “mini-brain” that gives rise to heart intelligence? What’s even more fascinating is that the connection from the heart-to-the-brain is stronger than from the brain-to-the-heart. We now know that the brain doesn’t control our heart-rate, and can only influence it with the cocktail of hormones it produces.
So, how does this relate to hugging? When we experience the elevated emotions that make us feel happy and peaceful, such as when we give or receive a heartfelt hug, our heart’s electromagnetic field switches into a state of coherence with the electromagnetic field of our brain. The Heartmath Institute has been studying the mental, emotional and physical effects of coherence for decades and has discovered the following benefits:
- Longer life span
- Lower stress levels
- Decreased incidence of a number of heart-related maladies
- Lower rates of diabetes
- Improved mental capacity, including clarity of thought
- Improved test-taking ability, and overall academic success, for students
7 – Hugging Helps With Depression
Depression is a form of chronic stress, essentially. Your fight-or-flight response is constantly being activated, causing a hormonal imbalance which would normally be corrected by your parasympathetic nervous system. When you’re chronically stressed, or depressed, this system cannot operate.
Along with oxytocin and serotonin, hugging also stimulates the release of the “reward and pleasure” hormone, dopamine. This amazing neurotransmitter gives the brain energy, motivation, alertness, and excitement about new ideas. A surge in dopamine can give us a pleasurable feeling, a type of “high.” The increased energy and talkativeness caused by drinking coffee is mainly due to the effect of increased dopamine levels.
Deficient levels of dopamine activity in the brain can cause depression, characterized by low energy and lack of motivation. In some cases, a severely dopamine-deficient person may even contemplate committing suicide, but often won’t do anything about it, due to lack of energy.
Using MRIs and PET scans, scientists have shown that hugging stimulates the release of dopamine. This is obviously a much safer and more sustainable way to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression without taking addictive anti-depressant medication, and suffering all the sides effects that come along with it.
Let’s Hug More
Even though science has now proven a whole host of benefits associated with hugging, you already knew, on some level, that hugging makes you feel good. So why does depression affect 18.1% of the US population every year? That’s nearly 1 in 5 people!
I honestly think that human touch, specifically hugging, is seriously lacking in today’s society. Think back over the last few days and tally up how many proper hugs you gave. By proper, I mean a heartfelt hug that lasted more than fifteen or twenty seconds. Most people, especially those without a partner, probably have not received a proper hug in the last few weeks, or even months, and I think I know why.
There seems to be a social stigma around giving an extended hug and I’ll be the first to admit that my hugs don’t last more than a couple of seconds, usually. We often don’t want to come across as creepy or weird, especially if we’re hugging someone we don’t know very well.
I have a challenge for you. Share this article with your partner, family or friends. Then sit down and make a commitment to engage in a proper, twenty-second, heartfelt hug whenever you see them. Try to get in at least three hugs every day and notice how you feel. If you want to go a step further, write down your thoughts in a journal. It might be useful to mull over your reservations and fear of judgement, as well as the benefits you are feeling.
Let’s all make a conscious effort to hug more. You just never know when someone is having a bad day and all they need is a proper hug.