Hugging is back, thanks to vaccines, low COVID-19 infection rates, and the nation opening its doors, windows, and hearts to social interaction. For many people, especially those who live alone, COVID put the brakes on hugging. Experts say that this very important aspect of our human interaction affects not only our emotional health but also our mental and physical well-being.
According to The Conversation, hugging helps us communicate with others forming and maintaining social bonds. It also stimulates the innate sense of touch that begins in the womb and carries us through life. The act of hugging produces a cascade of feel-good chemicals such as the hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role in slowing down the heart rate and reducing stress and anxiety.
Health benefits of hugging we can now enjoy:
- Better sleep. Cuddling with your partner helps regulate sleep by controlling the levels of cortisol in our bodies. When we are stressed, the levels of this hormone rise, wreaking havoc with our sleep-wake cycles.
- Lower stress levels. Besides being soothing and pleasurable, hugging helps us build resiliency to stress, according to The Conversation. Studies found that babies who are well nurtured during their infancy grow up to be less reactive to stressors and have lower levels of anxiety.
- Less illness. According to Healthline, a study of more than 400 adults found that hugging reduces the incidence of illness. By monitoring hugging frequency, researchers found that those who cuddled the most won hands-down in being less likely to become infected by a cold. And if they did, they had less severe symptoms, according to The Conversation.
- Improved heart health. A study involving romantic partners illustrated the effect of touch on heart health. One group of partners held hands for 10 minutes followed by a 20-second hug. The second group sat in silence for the same amount of time. Those in the affectionate group experienced a greater reduction in blood pressure and heart rate.
- Happiness boost. Oxytocin, often called the “cuddle hormone,” is released when we hug, touch, or sit close to someone, according to Healthline. This chemical is known to boost our happiness levels and reduce our levels of stress.
- Pain relief. A study published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice found that therapeutic touch helped relieve pain in those with fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. Hugging is a form of touch that can reduce pain.
- Improved communication. While most human communication is accomplished with words or facial expressions, scientists have found that people can convey a wide range of emotions, including love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness, by the power of touch.
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