Hugging is a caring gesture. Consciously or not, you know when to reach for the other person and show them your love. You also know how good a hug can feel when you’re feeling overwhelmed. The feeling that you’re not alone and someone is there to support you is simply priceless. And it’s not all just a perception. Scientists already have proof of the benefits of hugging.
Benefits of hugging: the touch of love
Hugging is a basic gesture of non-verbal communication between humans. You instinctively know when someone needs one, almost as if you feel it pulling you. The contrary also applies. A hug from someone you love and care for has the gift of making you believe that everything will be alright.
The effect of this type of human touch is not just a perception either. Several studies have already found proof that a simple hug can produce physical changes that make us feel better.
It reduces negative emotions
In a 2018 study, 404 individuals were put to test to see how their moods were affected by hugging. The researchers discovered a reduction in the negative and conflicting moods and emotions in those who were subject to hugs.
The effect didn’t last more than one day, but that only works to reinforce the need for human touch every day.
It is stress-reducing and it supports the immune system
Many diseases have stress as their base due to the increase in cortisol levels this pressured state triggers. According to a 2014 study, perceived social support reduces conflicts, stress and, surprisingly, the risk of infections.
Hugging, a form of social support, managed to reduce the stress levels and the risk of infections (a common cold in this case) by 32%.
It improves heart health and caring feelings
Oxytocin is a hormone released by the body to soothe anxiety and stress. It is also frequently called the “happy hormone” or the “love hormone” because women tend to have higher levels when in the presence of their children and partners.
Scientists have confirmed that hugging also triggers the release of this hormone – thus also supporting a reduction of the stress levels – and that they can improve heart health while at it. In a 2005 study, premenopausal women reporting a higher frequency of hugs by their partners or spouses presented lower blood pressure and heart rate.
It improves self-esteem and reduces fear
Low self-esteem and existential concerns go often hand in hand. In a 2013 study, the researchers discovered that something as simple as a brief human touch could reduce the feelings of death anxiety in individuals with low self-esteem.
The power of human touch was so significant that a brief touch on the shoulders was all needed to produce these results.
Although hugs were not mentioned in this study, one cannot help but to deduct that this would also be one of the benefits of hugging to similar or even better results.
It soothes the perception of pain
In a 2014 study, the researchers experimented with a gently painful laser and tested the levels of pain and distress from the individuals. The laser was used alone and in concurrence with touch to assess if there were any differences.
The scientists concluded that touch reduced sensitivity in detecting where the laser was being applied and it produced a localized analgesia that significantly reduced the levels of pain.
Giving the effect of hugs in self-esteem and stress, plus the increased release of oxytocins, it is only safe to assume that hugs can also work as a mild painkiller.
Why do hugs feel so good?
Hugs feel so good because they keep you healthy and happy. You don’t need to feel stressed or have low self-esteem to feel the benefits of hugging. Anyone can enjoy them at any time.
Nevertheless, the increased release of oxytocin can be named as the main culprit. These hormones are tailored to make the body feel happy overall, physically and mentally. Moreover, the physical touch combined with these hormones strengthens the bonds between people.
There is even some speculation in the scientific world that the benefits of hugging and this reinforcement of social links is one of the main reasons why mothers feel so compelled to hug their children who, in turn, look for that contact and feel much calmer when it happens.