In a world characterised by stress, fast-paced lifestyles, and increasing social isolation, the simple act of a warm embrace can be a powerful antidote to negative emotions and a boost for our overall well-being. Research indicates that hugging, a universal form of communication and comfort, has far-reaching health benefits that extend beyond the warm feeling it brings.

The hug quotient:

Family therapist Virginia Satir’s insight that “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” highlights the significance of physical touch in our lives. In today’s touch-deprived society, where social norms often discourage physical contact, seeking out and embracing more hugs can be a proactive step towards optimal health.
Let’s delve into the scientific evidence supporting the transformative power of hugs, exploring how they influence both our mental and physical health.

BCOP| Staff hugging at Neville Williams House nursing home

The neurochemical dance of hugs:

Hugs have a profound impact on our mood and mental health by triggering the release of several neurochemicals that play key roles in our well-being:
1. Dopamine: known as the pleasure hormone, dopamine induces feelings of happiness and satisfaction, contributing to an overall sense of well-being.
2. Serotonin: often referred to as the antidepressant hormone, serotonin elevates mood, controls anxiety, and diminishes feelings of loneliness, fostering emotional balance.
3. Oxytocin: termed the love hormone, oxytocin not only relieves stress but also boasts a range of health benefits, including weight loss, lowered blood pressure, disease resistance, increased libido, and reduced stress.

The healing timeline of hugs:

The duration of a hug significantly influences its impact on our health. A mere 10-second hug can help the body fight infections, ease depression, and reduce fatigue. Extend that to a 20-second hug, and the benefits extend to reducing the harmful effects of stress, relieving blood pressure, and promoting a healthy heart. Increasing the frequency of hugs leads to a cascade of positive outcomes, including reduced blood pressure, decreased cortisol levels, improved healing, diminished cravings, and enhanced immunity.

BCOP| Staff at Neville Williams house enjoying a hug

Deep hug benefits:

Going beyond the surface, deep hugs provide a myriad of benefits that extend beyond mere physical touch:
1. Building trust and safety: deep hugs foster trust and create a sense of safety, laying the foundation for open and honest communication in relationships.
2. Emotional healing: oxytocin levels are instantly boosted during hugs, aiding in the healing of negative emotions such as loneliness, isolation, and anger.
3. Immune system strengthening: gentle pressure on the sternum and an emotional charge during a hug stimulate the thymus gland, regulating and balancing the body’s production of white blood cells, essential for maintaining good health.
4. Boosting self-esteem: physical contact during a hug not only provides a sense of safety and love but also contributes to enhanced self-esteem, instilled through connections with parents, lovers, and friends.
5. Muscle relaxation and pain relief: Hugs have the power to relax muscles, releasing tension and providing relief from physical pain and aches through increased circulation to soft tissues.
6. Cardiovascular benefits: studies suggest that hugging is associated with greater reductions in blood pressure levels and heart rate, contributing to improved heart health.
7. Mindfulness and awareness: hugs bring us into the present moment, fostering mindfulness and awareness similar to meditation practices.

Hugs and mental well-being:

Scientific evidence reveals that hugging can positively impact mental health in various ways:
1. Stress reduction: hugging reduces stress by providing a physical manifestation of support, both for the person giving and receiving the hug.
2. Illness prevention: the stress-reducing effects of hugs may contribute to a stronger immune system, reducing the likelihood of falling ill and mitigating symptoms in those who do.
3. Heart health: affectionate relationships, marked by hugs, are associated with better heart health, as evidenced by reductions in blood pressure levels and heart rate.
4. Happiness boost: oxytocin, released during hugs, is linked to happiness and reduced stress, particularly in women who have better relationships and more frequent hugs.
5. Fear reduction: touch, including hugs, has been found to reduce anxiety in people with low self-esteem and may prevent individuals from isolating themselves when confronted with reminders of mortality.
6. Pain management: hugging and therapeutic touch have been shown to reduce pain, providing a holistic approach to pain management.

In a world driven by technological advances and an increasingly isolated lifestyle, the ancient practice of hugging emerges as a potent elixir for our well-being. From the release of happiness-inducing hormones to the strengthening of immune systems, the science behind hugs is both fascinating and compelling. At BCOP, hugs are one of the many ways in which we make people feel at home, calm and relaxed. We prioritise this simple yet profound act of connection, recognising hugs not only as gestures of affection but as transformative tools for a happier, healthier life.

BCOP| carers at Robert Harvey House giving each other a hug

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1.How Do Hugs Make You Feel? Medical Author: Karthik Kumar, MBBS, Medical Reviewer: Pallavi Suyog Uttekar, MD

2. Medically reviewed by Karen Cross, FNP, MSN — By Erica Cirino — Updated on April 11, 2018


BCOP| Staff enjoying a group hug at Neville Williams House nursing home