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6 Health Benefits Of Hugging

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I believe everyone loves being hugged, and there’s a good reason for that. A good hug can feel warm and soothing. It can make you feel cared for and loved. But did you know that hugging can be therapeutic too? It’s been proven that hugging can contribute to your health and make you feel happier.

In this article, we’ll explain what hug therapy is and what the most common health benefits of hugging are. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

What Is Hug Therapy?

Hug therapy involves hugging to help a person effectively respond to and manage different emotional experiences and provide emotional support and comfort to them. Studies have shown that hugging can greatly benefit people that suffer from anxiety, depression, or stress and struggle with loneliness. It’s also worth mentioning that hugging therapy can benefit both adults and children.

The benefits of hugging can be attributed to the power of touch. Touch is one of the ways we interact with other people. For example, we hug our friends and family, shake our colleagues’ hands, and high-five children. 

Every person feels the need and a desire to be hugged or touched regardless of their age. And there’s a good reason for that. Namely, when someone hugs you or cuddles you, this makes you feel good and also strengthens the social and emotional bond you have with that person while decreasing symptoms of anxiety. The reason for this is that when you engage in cuddling, hugging, or any other pleasant touch, your brain releases oxytocin, which is one of the four feel-good hormones and is also known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone.”

6 Health Benefits Of Hugging

1. Hugging May Improve Your Heart Health

In one study, participants were divided into two groups. In the first group, romantic partners had to hold hands for over 10 minutes while watching a romantic video, followed by a 20-second hug. The second group included couples who were asked to rest quietly for 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

After being exposed to a stressful situation, participants in the first group demonstrated lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure compared with the second group (1).

2. Hugging Can Reduce Stress

Give them a hug when a loved one is feeling down or going through a rough time in life. 

Science has shown that giving another person your support by touching them can decrease their stress. Moreover, it can even reduce your stress levels.

In one study, which included twenty romantic couples, men received electric shocks. During the electric shocks, each female participant held her partner’s arm. 

The results of the study showed that there was decreased activity in the parts of each woman’s brain related to stress and more activity in those parts related to rewards of maternal behavior (2). So, when you hug someone to support or comfort them, these parts of your brain may react similarly.

3. Hugging May Help Relieve Pain

One study has found that therapeutic touch can be effective in reducing pain in people with fibromyalgia syndrome. Namely, all of the participants in the study had this condition and received 6 therapeutic touch treatments. The participants reported a considerable decrease in pain and substantial improvement in quality of life (3).

4. Hugging May Help Keep You Healthier

Due to the stress-reducing effects of touch, hugging might also protect you against illness.

One study, which included 404 healthy adults, has found that perceived social support protects against the increase in infection risk, while hugging has stress-buffering effects. Additionally, those participants who got infected but received more frequent hugs and greater support had less severe symptoms compared with those participants who had no support at all or had little support. These results suggest that social support may be effectively conveyed through hugging (4).

5. Hugging Helps Reduce Existential Concerns In People With Low Self-Esteem

One study, which investigated the effect of touch on existential concerns in individuals with low-self esteem, found that a brief touch on the shoulder decreased anxiety symptoms in individuals who had death concerns. It also led to more social connectedness after participants were reminded of death (5).

6. Hugging Helps You Interact With Others

Verbal communication is not the only way we can interact with others. We can interact with one another through touch too.

One study found that a stranger could communicate different emotions to another person by touching various parts of their body. Some of the feelings they could express were happiness, sadness, love, sympathy, gratitude, disgust, anger, and fear (6).

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Hug Therapy Work To Reduce Anxiety?

As we already said, your brain releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin when you cuddle, hug, or touch someone. This hormone plays an important role in reducing the levels of cortisol – a hormone that helps regulate the response of your body to stress. Oxytocin also helps induce relaxation and has anxiolytic-like effects.

Can Hug Therapy Help Reduce Depression?

One study, which included 20 adolescents with depression, found that hug therapy alone couldn’t reduce depression in the participants (7).

How Long Does A Hug Have To Last To Have Therapeutic Effects?

This question may be a little bit difficult to answer. If you try to find the answer on the internet, what you’ll most likely end up finding is 20 seconds. However, there’s limited research to confirm this.

Since hugging does have a therapeutic effect on our minds and bodies, as it encourages the release of the hormone oxytocin, we may conclude that a hug should last until each person feels the effects of this hormone.

What Happens When You Hug Someone For 20 Seconds?

When you hug a loved one or another person for 20 seconds, your brain releases oxytocin, which is known as the feel-good hormone. 

Oxytocin has been shown to decrease stress and have anxiolytic-like effects. It’s also been shown to have an essential role in social interactions, such as parent-infant bonding.

What Are The 3 Types Of Hugs?

1. The Warm Bear Hug

The warm bear hug is the type of embrace you give your brother or sister. It’s also the type of hug you give your friend when you haven’t seen them for a long period of time.

The warm bear hug makes you feel comforted, cared for, and content, and it’s reserved for those who mean the most to you.

2. Side Hug

This is when two people hug each other by putting their arms around the other person’s shoulder or waist. This is the type of hug you give acquaintances, i.e., people you’re not close to, rather than family or friends.

3. One-Sided Hug

In this type of hug, you’re facing another person, and one of you is giving a hug, and the other person is receiving it. The person receiving the hug usually keeps their arms by their side, while the person giving a hug is hugging them tightly.

The one-sided hug indicates emotional support.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Hugs?

Every person craves physical touch. But, when you don’t get as many hugs as you need or you’re used to, this leads to a condition known as touch starvation.

Touch starvation, also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation, has been a common issue many have been facing over the last two and a half years due to the social distancing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Touch starvation can have various effects on your body. When you’re deprived of touch, you can become stressed and even develop symptoms of anxiety or depression. When you’re under stress, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate to increase, which, in turn, can negatively affect your digestive and immune systems. All of these things can also affect your sleep quality and lead to an increased risk of infections.

How Can Self-Hugging Therapy Benefit You?

As we already said, hugging provides comfort. When a parent, friend, partner, or relative hugs you, this can help you feel closer to them. Hugging can also make you feel happier and cared for and give you a sense of fulfillment.

Getting a hug from a loved one can make you feel better fast. But what should you do if you’re on your own and need someone to hug you? The answer is pretty easy – hug yourself.

I know self-hugging might sound weird, but it’s a great and easy way to comfort and make yourself feel better. In fact, it’s believed that self-hugging, also known as havening, can benefit you in the following ways:

  • It can make you feel secure, safe, comforted, and less alone.
  • It can help reduce your pain.
  • It can increase feelings of love toward yourself.
  • It can boost your mood.