As this current situation continues to challenge us in many ways, one of the most significant for me is missing the human contact. Yes, I have my family at home and we hug each other a ton. But I typically receive or give hugs to my clients at work, my friends, parents, church members etc…The benefits of a hug are huge! And I for one am really missing it!
I lost my grandmother, during this pandemic and had planned for a small family only service and I was warned my family traveling from other states would not want to offend, but would likely not give hugs when they saw us. I understand, and truly did not think about it one way or another, just a sign of the current time. When we arrived at my Grandmother’s house, my cousin swooped in and gave me a huge hug, and it really hit me. It felt so wonderful, I immediately had a smile on my face, and despite the sad circumstance and the current world affairs, I felt really happy.
When we receive or give a hug, we naturally release oxytocin, the happy hormone 😊 It plays a big role in stress reduction, blood pressure, immune function, sleep and even appetite. It is very important in women after they deliver a baby and helps with mother/child bonding and lactation. The best thing about this hormone is the more you release it, the more affection and human touch you crave. It has a lasting effect and can help you toward long term health and well being.
Blood pressure is a marker for heart disease, and Oxytocin is one way to lower blood pressure and make your heart happy. In one study of 59 women, those who hugged their partners more had a lower blood pressure than those who rarely did. What a great way to help your heart health while also helping those you care about by giving out hugs too! It is a win/win.
Sleep is my favorite past-time and a very important factor in our overall health too. When we have higher levels of oxytocin in our bodies we tend to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep with better patterns through the night. Some studies have even found fewer nightmares in those with higher levels of oxytocin.
Another fun fact, oxytocin is also one of the hormones that relate to appetite. Similar to when you have just eaten, when you receive a hug the hormone has the same signaling effect as a big meal! You feel full.
We know stress and immune function go hand in hand. And yes, hugging not only increases secretion of oxytocin the superhero of our story, it also decreases the secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone. High cortisol = depression, stress, anxiety, poor immune function. Hugs = feelings of goodness + less stress. Hugs 2020!
Cortisol also leads to weakened immune function, because when you are stressed, you are not focused on the long term, but rather in a survival state. Given the current health climate, we all should be considering how we can boost our immune system. Oxytocin has the ability to stop cortisol and bring your body back to a healthy balance, increasing your ability to fight viruses and other illness. Maybe we ought to change the old adage to “a hug a day, keeps the doctor away!”
Besides all the health reasons to give/take hugs, we really benefit from the bonds they allow us to make and the social, emotional and physical well being they provides. Give someone you live with a hug today!