How A Hug Can Relieve Stress
There are many ways in which we express ourselves to our fellow humans. We have several gestures to express affection or bonding — a firm handshake, a tap on the shoulder, a kiss on the forehead or a hug. Even animals such as dogs, cats and birds have their own set of gestures to express affection with each other.
One of the simplest and easiest gestures that we use to express love for each other is a hug. But did you know that embracing someone is not just a way of showing affection, it is also beneficial on many levels?
- Hugs make us feel good about ourselves and about everything. This is true from experience. If you have not felt it yet, embrace someone you love and trust and come back to reading this article. It’s that simple an experiment! The reason for this sense of “feeling good” is a neuropeptide in our body, known as Oxytocin. It is also colloquially known as the “cuddle hormone”. This chemical is also linked with social bonding behaviours such as handshakes.
- Hugs lower your blood pressure. It is not just about the cuddle hormone making you “feel” good, there is actually a physiological change that happens in the body because of hugging. When someone as much as touches you, your skin sends signals to pressure receptors present in it, called Pacinian corpuscles. These, in turn, activate the vagus nerve, an area of the brain that performs many functions, the main one being lowering blood pressure.
- Hugs can keep your fears at bay. A research study on fears and self-esteem was published in a journal called “Psychological Science”. The data revealed that hugs and touching can significantly reduce the worries of mortality. The data suggested that hugging in general, even if it meant hugging inanimate objects such as a teddy bear, helps to soothe a person’s existential fears. To quote the lead researcher Sander Koole, “Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern. Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instil in people a sense of existential significance.”
- Hugs can be good for the heart. No, we are not talking about love stories and movie romance here, though it is pretty close. An experiment conducted at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, showed that participants who did not have any contact with their partners had a quickened heart rate of ten beats per minute, as against five beats per minute among those who hugged their partners during the experiment, thereby showing hugging is good for maintaining an optimum heart rate.
- Hugs help in old age. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a psychologist at the Ohio State University said in a USA Today interview, “The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health”. There are many studies that support this statement as well as common sense. Loneliness during old age can have disastrous effects. Senior citizens around us need regular hugs in addition to medical care.
- Hugs reduce Cortisol. Just like there is a cuddle hormone called Oxytocin, there is a stress hormone called Cortisol. Hugging relieves stress from our nervous system, releases tension from the muscles and reduces the amount of Cortisol being produced by the body.
- Babies need hugs to make them less stressed as adults. Several scientific studies show it is important for babies to be hugged while growing up so they know that they are loved and feel comforted. This increases their sense of security and helps them develop into strong adults with a healthy self-esteem. Besides, who does not like hugging babies?
Psychotherapist Virginia Satir has famously quoted, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Go do the math. Better still, go give a hug!