To steal a line from Britney Spears, there are two types of people in the world: those who consider themselves huggers and those who don’t. You can typically figure out what camp someone falls into over an awkward hello or goodbye.
Our general rule is “you do you” when it comes to sharing your personal space; however, there are some pretty interesting research findings regarding the health benefits of hugging that make a case for embracing the form of nonverbal communication.
A number of studies have identified how important hugs are to physical and emotional wellbeing. Here are nine really good reasons to hug it out on the reg.
1. Hugging helps you communicate your feelings in a way words can’t
Whether conscious or sub, the way we physically interact with people communicates a lot. “Touch is the first of our senses to develop in the womb and reaches maturity well before the other senses do,” says psychologist Danielle Forshee, PsyD. AS a result, interpersonal touching such as hugging plays an important role in emotional well-being she says.
2. Hugs help protect you from stress-related illnesses
Sure, an apple a day might help keep the doctor away (or so the saying goes), but you might be better off with a hug. A study published by Carnegie Mellon found that there’s a relationship between receiving hugs and your immune system. Specifically, the study looked at the types of sickness and infections that you’re made more susceptible to because of stress and increased cortisol levels. The researchers found that people who experienced hugs more frequently were less likely to get sick and that even if they did get sick their symptoms were less intense.
3. Hugging improves your physical performance
In 2010, The New York Times reported on a study that found that athletes performed better when they showed physical comradery (such as hugging). The study found that teams that showed the most touch-bonding were among the highest ranking and best performing.
4. Hugs might make you less nervous to speak in public
Another study published in Behavioral Medicine found that people performing the typically stressful activity of public speaking had lower heart rates when they had a 20-second hug from their partners compared to those who did not have any physical contact.
5. Hugging can lower your cortisol levels
Part of the reason participants in the previously mentioned study were able to perform better than their peers is because the hugging managed to reduce many of their stress indicators. Furthermore, NPR reports that hugging has a measured ability to decrease the pesky stress hormone cortisol. “Having this friendly touch, just somebody simply touching our arm and holding it, buffers the physiological consequences of this stressful response,” Matt Hertenstein PhD, told NPR.
6. Hugging boosts your oxytocin levels naturally
Oxytocin is a hormone that is often dubbed as the “cuddle hormone” because of its relationship to important aspects of relationships such as trust, devotion, and bonding. Hugging is one of the activities that releases oxytocins in your brain naturally, helping you bond and strengthen interpersonal relationships. An increased amount of Oxytocin is also associated with better heart health.
7. Hugs may help quell existential crises
A series of studies conducted by the Association Of Psychological Science found that people who were prone to feeling existential dread and fearing mortality were able to find some sense of security through interpersonal touching including hugging.
8. Hugging can be form of pain relief
Fahad Basheer, MD, writes that hugging can alleviate pain in a number of ways. The first is by releasing endorphins which block pain pathways, the second is by improving circulation which removes pain peptides.
9. Hugging can help you feel less alone
One of the great ironies of current culture is that social media and technology mean we’re more connected to each other than ever before—just not physically. It’s totally possible to spend large periods of time without interacting with another human being in person. This type of isolation isn’t healthy as it can trigger or deepen feelings of depression. The release of oxytocin, sometimes called a social hormone, a good hug can help combat feelings of isolation by helping you feel connected and trust other people.
10. Hugs help you handle conflict
Ever feel in a rut in the wake of an issue with someone your life? A recent study of 400 people over a two-week period found that that receiving a hug following a conflict can help with squelching those bad feelings. So, next time you have a squabble with a friend, don’t leave without a warm, consensual embrace.
Originally published September 18, 2018; updated October 4, 2018.
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