I come from a family of huggers. When we gather together, we hug. When we get reacquainted with old friends, we hug. When we meet new people, we hug. Hugging is what we do.
I have carried that practice forward into my own family. My kids grew up being hugged and I still embrace them as adults. And my grandchildren would be shocked if I failed to give each one an affectionate squeeze every time I see them.
I was excited, therefore, to come across info today that suggests that hugging actually promotes health and wellbeing. I spent time doing research of my own, because I had a question that I sought an answer for. Here’s what I found out.
The act of embracing a loved one, a friend or a pet has these important physical and mental benefits.
1. Hugging produces oxytocin. This feel good hormone helps us to relax, feel safe and experience contentment, while lowering anxiety. Oxytocin slows heart rate and reduces cortisol. This “fight or flight” hormone contributes to stress, heart diseases and high blood pressure.
2. Hugging slows us down, creates connection, and fosters appreciation. Embracing another boosts self esteem for both participants.
3. Hugging helps to prevent disease. Studies have shown that close physical contact with another boosts the immune system, reduces pain and inflammation, decreases autoimmune disorder symptoms and lowers glucose levels in people with diabetes. The gentle pressure on the sternum and accompanying emotional charge opens the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland which regulates and balances the body’s white blood cell count.
4. Hugging stimulates the production of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Dopamine is responsible for that feel-good feeling and influences motivation. Low dopamine levels contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. Serotonin and endorphins create a sensation of pleasure and negate pain. They lift mood, while lowering depression and sadness, reduce the risks for heart disease, stabilize weight and prolong life.
5. Hugging calms the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system helps us to “rest and digest ” as opposed to the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, which, when overactive, causes stress related illnesses, weight gain, insomnia and chronic fatigue.
6. And hugging is a nonverbal form of communication that promotes love, acceptance, appreciation, care and affection. Studies have shown that people who are hugged are more likely to pay forward love, acceptance and care to others.
The positive effects of hugs do not last long, so it is vital to give and receive hugs throughout the day to create wellbeing. Research shows that 12 hugs a day are optimal for the greatest health benefits, and each hug should last 20 seconds or more, which is considerably longer than the average hug time of 3 seconds.
Hugging on pets can be just as beneficial as embracing humans, as is cuddling babies who aren’t able yet to hug back. Even hugging inanimate objects such as stuffed animals, pillows or blankets release those feel-good hormones.
My question was this. Are there health benefits if I hug myself?
This may seem like a strange question, however, I often spend time alone. When I’m in solitary mode, can I benefit from hugging on myself? The answer, I found, is yes!
Crossing my arms over my chest, and placing my right hand on my left shoulder, and my left hand on my right shoulder, creates that gentle pressure on the sternum, opens the Solar Plexus Chakra, and signals the release of all the health boosting, emotion lifting hormones. If there’s no one else around to hug, and I need one, I can embrace myself and contribute to my own wellbeing.
Hugs are powerful. Hugs are free. Hugs improve our health. Have you given and received your hugs today?