Whether you’re wrapped up in the arms of your partner, cuddling your kid or greeting a friend hello, hugs have a way of making us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
They make you feel protected and loved. But did you know that this touching gesture is also a surprisingly powerful health booster?
The benefits of hugs go beyond just spreading joy. Although not everyone enjoys or feels comfortable with the same level of physical touch, hugs are thought to positively impact both your mental and physical health.
These things happen to your body when you get a heart to heart hug.
1. Hugs can lower stress and reduce anxiety
Getting a good squeeze before going into a stressful situation can help you relax and calm down a bit. The hug could even help you stay calm, cool, and collected during the event. The reason for this is that when we hug or kiss a loved one, our oxytocin levels go up. This powerful hormone is often called “the bonding hormone” because it promotes attachment in relationships, even between mothers and their newborn babies.
Oxytocin is made primarily in the hypothalamus in the brain and some of it is released into the bloodstream through the pituitary gland. But some of it remains in the brain, where it influences mood, behaviour and physiology. It has the ability to alleviate social anxiety and produce feelings of trust. It also has the peripheral ability to reduce stress.
2. Hugs can increase your self-esteem
From the moment we’re born, our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. During our childhood, the loving cuddles that we receive develop into our sense of self-worth which we carry into adulthood at a cellular level. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. That is why when we are feeling down, unsure of ourselves or confused, a hug can often transform those feelings back to one of self-worth and a positive attitude.
Apparently, if your self-esteem needs a boost, consider the benefits of hugging. It stands to reason that the feel-good gesture may boost a low mood. After all, human touch signifies bonding and social connection. As a result, hugging may bolster your self-esteem by reinforcing your own ability to give and receive love.
3. Hugs can lower the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure
The hormones that are released in the body after a hug aren’t just good for happy feelings, they can also help your physical health. When someone touches you, the sensation on your skin activates pressure receptors, called Pacinian corpuscles, which then send signals to the vagus nerve, an area of the brain that is responsible for (among many things) lowering blood pressure.
In addition to all those warm and fuzzy feelings you get from a rush of oxytocin, the hormone can also help lower your blood pressure. Frequent hugging between partners lowers blood pressure in premenopausal women. Basically, avoiding high blood pressure is a key factor in reducing the risk of heart disease and a variety of other chronic health risks.
4. Hugs can boost immunity
An over-aggressive immune system can lead to damage to bodily systems, increasing our risk of a variety of illnesses. However, to the extent that hugs make us feel safer and more cared for, they can buffer against experiences that might otherwise threaten us, protecting us from mounting an over-aggressive immune response. It’s been shown that people who are under stress and in conflict with others are more susceptible to viruses like the common cold. Folks who engage in frequent hugs during conflicts are less likely to “catch” a cold. Researchers say we are responsible for about one-third of the protective effect. Which implies that hugs may help you avoid getting sick.
So, if you want to lower stress or reduce anxiety, boost your self esteem, lower the risk of heart disease or blood pressure and boost your immune system. Generally, if you want to maintain a healthy life, it seems hugging is a good place to start.
We all need a hug at some point.