“Hold me, Love me. Hold me, Love Me, Eight days a week” sang The Beatles. To hold someone with love: this is a hug.
Virginia Satir the worldwide renowned family therapist said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance, 12 hugs a day for growth”.
Current research supports Satir intuition: hugs and social support have a “stress-buffering effect”.
A study published in the peer-reviewedPsychological Science journal found that:
- The more often people were hugged, the less likely they were to get sick.
- This held true even for people who had a lot of conflict in their lives.
The new research out of Carnegie Mellon indicates that feeling connected to others, especially through physical touch, protects us from stress-induced sickness. This research adds to a large amount of evidence for the positive influence of social support on health.
Social support can broadly be defined as the perception and actuality of meaningful relationships that serve as a psychological resource during tough times.
I decided to try an experiment with my wife Joan of sharing at least 4 hugs a day for thirty days. It was a really strange feeling. We have a very profound relationship but after years it’s weird to start hugging on purpose as opposed to “free hugs” when we started dating. The first days we had fun with it and felt uncomfortable. After a few days, without even noticing, we were looking for those hugs. It was like feeling hunger attacks: you need to have a hug. And when I had the hug, we both felt good. I researched a little bit around it and this is what I discovered.
Hugging instantly boosts hormones which promotes feelings of connection, belonging, and a better mood: oxytocin and serotonin (the same chemical mentioned in the name of a class of anti-depressants). More hugs mean more happy feelings. I discovered that oxytocin is called the love-hormone as it acts in the brain as a chemical messenger and is associated to sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety relief. On the other hand, serotonin is often called the “happy hormone” as it is associated to wellbeing and happiness. Low serotonin levels are, on the contrary, associated to depression. Serotonin is also a precursor for melatonin and helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and the body’s internal clock. Guess what? Since we started our hugs experiment, I sleep like a baby!
Hugs are part of perceived social support, or that feeling of being cared about by others. They’re a deposit in the emotional bank account of your relationship. They foster empathy and understanding between people and promote positivity.
P.S. Today I went to a business meeting that I was a little anxious about. I felt strangely calm and centered. Hugs side effect?
Credit photos: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash – Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash