I love my sister-in-law Ronna. The first time I met her, she gave me the most incredible hug. It wasn’t obligatory, wimpy or semi-commital. It was a full-on bear hug, complete with belly contact and a stout, strong, enveloping embrace. She is my inspiration for all the hugs I give and receive. And she–and hugging–are on my mind now more than ever!
Science backs how powerful hugging can be on our physical, mental and emotional health. When we take time to meet, greet and give each other heart-felt hugs:
- We get a health boost. Hugs stimulate the production of oxytocin (the love hormone), which is shown to boost our immune system and our ability to fight illness.
- We de-stress. The effects of a hug are immediate. A stress management study conducted at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto showed that participants who received a hug had a significant reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. A whopping 90% of diseases are said to be linked to high levels of stress in the body.
- We relax and let go. When someone hugs us, pressure receptors in our skin immediately send signals to the vagus nerve. As a result of the vagus nerve stimulation, our heart rate and blood pressure decrease and we feel relaxed and content.
- We get happy. Hugs stimulate the production of dopamine (the pleasure hormone), which helps us to relieve stress, tension and feel more open and trusting.
- We love ourselves more. According to a study conducted at the University College London, physical contact, like that from a hug, is essential to develop and maintain a healthy perception of our body. Hugs also help us to feel more emotionally connected to our friends and family.
Doubt the power of a hug during a pandemic? I stumbled across this video the other day of two young cousins and best friends hugging for the first time after a long quarantine. Watch here.
Before COVID, every time I would see my single friends (particularly those without kids), I would make it a point to give them at least two hugs during our visit. Many, especially now, are going an entire day without any hugs!! That’s no good. Even though COVID feels like a barrier to hugging, this week I challenge you to try and get at least four hugs a day (Ronna-style). Pets count in addition to those you live with or who are part of your “pod.” I have also started doing back hugs (yes back-to-back snuggles) with friends I haven’t seen in a while.
Lucky enough to be in a relationship now and want to feel more connected to your partner? Dr. Stan Tatkin, psychotherapist/researcher/couples expert at UCLA and author of Wired for Love found that when couples feel safe with one another, a twenty-second, full-body hug is just enough to release oxytocin and allow them to “synch up” on a neurobiological level. His research has shown this kind of hugging can have a profound effect on couples attachment and communication, especially when done upon greeting one another at the end of the day (and when your partner’s love language is touch). Try it.
Virginia Satir, American psychologist and adolescent expert says, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Is there someone in your life who could use more hugs?
Note: About to shoot me off an email about the dangers of hugging during a pandemic? Please don’t. A) the risk of hugging is relatively low and B) the immune-boosting benefits of hugging are enormous. Of course, use your best judgment but I’m choosing love over fear on this one folks.
YOUR HOMEWORK: How can you get in four hugs a day this week? (Remember, pets, your children and hugging the same person multiple times all count!) How do you feel when you nourish yourself in this way? If you’re not a hugger, could you become one?
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Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance coach/author and stress management speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau. Passionate about helping men and women find balance through the art and science of self-care, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, US News & World Report, Spirituality & Health and more. She and her team have certified more than 400 facilitators in 10 countries around the globe to lead life coaching groups and women’s retreats based on her work. She’s the author of two books on life balance including the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 18-year-old son. More on Renee here.