As someone who is not particularly "touchy," the allure of extensive social hugging has never been much of a siren song for me. But according to an increasing number of studies, hugging has some serious benefits. Skeptical? Here are eight reasons why you should do more hugging. Yes, really.
The history of hugging as a social practice seems to have a singular narrative: It's innate. We hold babies when they're young, establishing the groundwork almost instantly. The physical act of hugging is protective, intimate, an exchange both physically and emotionally. There's even an arm of meditation dedicated to the transformative aspects of hugging — "mindful hugging," made popular by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The basic practice is simple: You hug for the span of three breaths. The first honors your presence in the moment; the second honors the other person; and the third is dedicated to the feelings of happiness and gratitude that arise from your togetherness.
The word "hug" arose around the mid-16th century; a widely accepted theory is that it originated from Scandinavia and is closely related to the word hugga, Norwegian for "comfort and console." Even at its core is kindness. I'll be honest, I'm starting to come around to hugs.
Especially in this current era of violent xenophobia, what sets hugging apart is its role as non-verbal communication. It spans across cultures and languages and backgrounds. It's free, it's kind, it's good, it's clearly what we need a bit more of. And these added health benefits are nice, too.
1Hugging Relaxes Muscles
Let's start with the external benefits. On a very basic level, the action of hugging can help loosen tight muscles. The result? A release of tension.
2Hugging Reduces Stress
Turns out, physical closeness translates to emotional intimacy. In a 2015 study involving 404 adults, scientists studied the perceived social effects of hugging — unsurprisingly, those who were hugged more often had a much more optimistic sense of where they fit socially. And as humans, feeling good about our place in the world is integral to a positive sense of being.
3And Also Boosts Your Immune System
In that same 2015 study, participants were found to be noticeably less susceptible to the common cold when they had a lot of good hugging in their lives (yes, actually!). The lack of stress, combined with the sense that they were emotionally supported and had allies made facing down a cold a whole lot easier.
4It Can Even Protect Against Heart Disease
Hugging can lower both the heart rate and the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can wreak havoc on your health.
5Hugging Can Lessen Feelings Of Isolation
Hugs release oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter which regulates bonding and social interaction. It also increases feelings of empathy and compassion and generosity. It is the foundation for trusting another person.
6And Reduce Anxiety, Too
Hugs also release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain's pleasure and reward centers. People suffering from mood disorders like depression and degenerative disorders like Parkinson's both exhibit noticeably low levels of dopamine production. Hugging can help with that.
7And It Can Help Fight Fear
In a study published in Psychological Science regarding the role of touch, scientists found that hugs can help with both low self-esteem and fears of mortality.
8Hugging Is A Great Pain Reliever
Hugs also release endorphins, which block pain pathways and increase circulation to soft tissues. Hugging is dope, I guess.
The key, of course, is not to hug without consent. Want a hug from someone special? Ask. And if they say no, then don't push it. There will be other huggers in the world. I promise.