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Hugs are almost like a universal language. We hug to show that we care, or simply because we're stressed and need some type of affection. For many, hugging is a symbol of being human. It's a way to understand our emotions and express ourselves, without so much as saying a word.
In addition, the benefits of hugging are both physical and emotional, promoting a healthy body and mind. However, not many of us understand just how important it is to hug one another and show compassion.
Fortunately, science has come a long way and has helped provide answers to these questions regarding hugs, human touch, and intimacy!
Read on below to find out how hugs and intimacy play a vital role in human kindness, and why they're critical for both physical and mental health.
Why Is Human Touch and Intimacy Important?
We don’ t need science to explain how human touch and intimacy can make you feel cared for and loved. No matter your background, whether you've suffered through trauma or have a pre-existing mental illness, all of these can be helped in some way through intimacy and human touch.
As humans, we have evolved to rely on additional support from our loved ones, our tribe. If you're too shy to ask for hugs or help, or worried about invading someone’s personal space, follow these steps below to gain the benefits of hugging and intimacy:
11 Science-Backed Benefits of Hugging
1. Alleviate Existential Fears
You wouldn't think a simple hug could alleviate the fear that we all have as humans – the fear of death. However, research shows that hugs can help alleviate existential dread and fear in people with low self-esteem.
This is because people with low self-esteem might feel disconnected from others. This disconnection from others can lead them to feel alienated and increase their fears of death and lead to existential negative thoughts.
Studies showed that a light touch, hugs, and even teddy bears were enough to alleviate these fears in people with low self-esteem.
2. Help Prevent Stress-Related Illnesses and Reduce Symptoms
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who received multiple hugs and affection were less prone to stress-related illnesses! When your body is stressed, this lowers your immune system's ability to protect itself against infections.
This, in turn, leads to coming down with common illnesses and more severe symptoms. The study showed that more hugs meant people didn't get sick as often or had less severe symptoms during their illness.
3. Help you Be More Social and More Healthy
Hugs can help you feel more social and actually lead to increased health! Studies have shown that being social and making friends can help you be more healthy both physically and psychologically at any age.
These studies have shown that being social can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in people. In addition, people over the age of 50 that reported being more social also reported better health. What better way to be more social than to be open to hugging? In addition to hugging, you can also:
4. Hugs Serve as a Grounding Technique
Grounding techniques are one of the best ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety, help people reconnect and reduce stress levels, and overall be more conscious of their surroundings.
Grounding techniques can be useful during a panic attack as well as during any time of the day to help you relax and reconnect with the world. Unfortunately, many people don't take the time to ground themselves and feel that sense of connection.
Fortunately, a simple hug is an excellent way to not just feel grounded to your surroundings, but also with other people! Grounding techniques and hugging can be used especially for people that are dissociated and use this as a trauma response mechanism.
In addition to hugging, there are other ways you can incorporate grounding to reduce emotions and reduce dissociation. These techniques include:
You can incorporate these methods on your own or help someone who is in crisis by offering these methods in addition to a simple hug or embrace.
5. Lower Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, and Post-partum Depression in Women
For many women, cardiovascular disease brought on by stress, high blood pressure, genetics, and lifestyle factors can be deadly and negatively impact their quality of life. It's important to be able to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress for women and men alike.
A simple way to do this: hugs! Studies showed that women who reported more hugs throughout their day had lower baseline blood pressure and heart rate levels than women who did not report being hugged.
This lowered blood pressure and heart rate might be due to the fact that hugs create a chemical known as oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone. Biologically, oxytocin helps induce birth by causing the uterus to contract and by allowing milk to be produced in a woman's breasts.
Oxytocin is an amazing hormone that is also known as the “love hormone.” This is because, interestingly enough, it also is present when you are aroused by your partner or you have a sense of touch (ahem, cue hugs!) Unfortunately, there's not a way to increase Oxytocin through pill form, as it does not easily cross through the blood-brain barrier.
Therefore, it's important to get Oxytocin naturally, which can also help alleviate depression and post-partum depression. Some of the natural ways to get Oxytocin include through touch (meaning through hugs) and also through exercise.
6. Increase Pain Threshold and Promote Healing
Another amazing effect of hugs, touch, and the release of Oxytocin is its ability to promote natural growth and healing. German studies have shown that Oxytocin plays a role in helping other transmitters in the brain, leading to physical benefits such as wound healing.
Oxytocin also has the ability to increase your threshold to pain, meaning you can tolerate higher pain levels more so than if you didn't have hugs. In addition, Oxytocin also has an anxiolytic effect, meaning it can reduce anxiety. Reducing stress and anxiety is crucial for healing, as a body under stress is unable to heal properly.
The study also showed that the best way to produce Oxytocin is through psychological effects. Therefore, a hug that brings you peace of mind and comfort is also boosting Oxytocin all at once.
Touch is an essential part in promoting health, healing, and helping you withstand pain! Remember this when you're running your next marathon and need that extra boost of comfort.
7. Increase Resilience and Help Reduce Insomnia
Resilience is also known as our ability to handle pain and stress. With a boost of Oxytocin and other feel-good hormones released by hugs, such as Serotonin, you can also increase your ability to be resilient to different life stressors.
Not only is resilience essential in everyday life, but studies have also shown that lack of resilience has also been shown to be one of the leading causes of insomnia.
This is due to the fact that low resilience means you will carry more stress with you throughout the day, leading to increased arousal and trouble sleeping. Resilience can be increased by boosting feel-good hormones like Oxytocin, which, of course, can be increased easily through the use of hugs!
Resilience all has to do with the way you view the world and the way you interact with others. Hugs are, simply put, one of the best ways to feel connected to people and one of the best ways to improve you outlook on life.
By feeling like you have a strong support system, and helping others feel as if you're on their side, these can all aid in boosting resilience.
8. Improve Your Health and Your Baby's Health
The benefits of hugging also extend to infants and new parents. Amazingly, studies have shown that hugging your baby with skin-to-skin contact, known as “kangaroo care,” actually has a number of benefits for both mother, father, and child.
The benefits were studied first in the 1970s in Bogota, Columbia. In this part of South America, premature babies were dying, with only 30% of those babies living past full-term.
Skin-to-skin contact can help:
When hugging and cuddling with your baby, you'll find that the benefits work for new fathers, mothers, and infants alike.
9. Control your Autonomic Nervous System and Reduce Anxiety
For people with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, the symptoms of anxiety can be difficult to overcome. This is because the autonomic nervous system is responsible for the incredibly uncomfortable feelings of:
These are classic symptoms of anxiety that can make it impossible to get through the day. Unfortunately, these symptoms are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that controls your involuntary actions.
In addition, the amygdala, which is the fear response center of the brain, is responsible for sending fear signals to your body which leads to anxiety.
This is a primitive function that cannot easily be overcome by sheer willpower. Ask anyone with a panic attack, for instance, to simply relax, and you will find it is impossible!
Fortunately, there are ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which inhibits autonomic responses. One study found that hugging and skin touch actually reduced the body's ability to activate its autonomic nervous system responses, such as fast heart rate!
This means during those times where it seems almost impossible to relax and calm down during times of stress, a hug might be a simple remedy to help the body unwind.
10. Create Connection and Empathy
Many people might think simply being sympathetic toward someone is all they need to show they care. On the contrary, empathy allows us to feel connected with others, therefore helping them move past whatever difficulty they are having.
In addition to active listening, seeing things from people's point of view, and avoiding deflecting and giving ill advice, hugging is also another simple way to improve empathy.
One of the benefits of hugging to improve empathy is truly feeling connected with another person by becoming a more understanding empath, whether that's feeling their joy or pain. By doing so, you can help foster a culture of true connectedness and genuine friendships.
11. Create Trust and Generosity
Touching another person can also help foster feelings of trust in the future, as well as make it more likely you will be more generous and giving! Not only is a simple touch all you need to feel empathetic and trusting toward strangers, but it's also a great way to improve your relationship with your significant other.
If you feel your relationship is on a rocky slope, try hugging it out next time to see if this helps build up trust again.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Hugging
A hug is much more than an act of kindness. For some, it is a much-needed tool to get them through a rough patch, or simply to help cheer up.
For others, it is a way to improve their relationships, overall physical health, mental health, and increase their conscious connection toward the world and humankind! Hugs are powerful… you just need to give it a try.