In our post-pandemic world, many people missed interacting with their friends and family the way they did pre-pandemic. For many physical touch like hugs is a sign of love and comradery. Physical touch is also good for our health, especially our mental health.
As more research is conducted and vaccine programs are rolled out, we feel fewer and fewer restrictions in our daily lives. This means you’ll soon be able to hug your family and friends again. Hugging is a way to show affection to another person, but a hug has many benefits.
Our sense of touch is reasonable for why hugs feel so great. The sense of touch allows people to explore the physical world surrounding them and help form and maintain social bonds with others.
There are two systems involved in touch: fast touch and slow touch. Fast touch is controlled by a bundle of nerves. This bundle of nerves helps us quickly recognize contact such as touching something hot or feeling a bug land on your arm. The slow touch system is controlled by c-tactile afferents. These c-tactile afferents process the emotional meaning of touch.
C-tactile afferents are a fairly new discovery and are often referred to as the cuddle nerves. They are only activated by specific types of touch, most commonly gentle touch by something of skin temperature like a hug.
The Power of a Hug
A hug has many powerful benefits on both our physical and mental health. The benefits of hugs include:
Gentle touch, like hugs, has been proven to regulate and improve one’s sleep. This is because of lower cortisol levels. Cortisol helps regulate the body’s sleep and wake cycle, but high cortisol levels can delay sleep. Higher cortisol levels are often due to stress in your day-to-day life. But the good news is hugging can reduce these high levels, improving your sleep.
Lowered Reactions to Stress
The effects of a hug go beyond the immediate sense of pleasure felt during the hug. The long-term benefits of a hug can make you less reactive to stress. Hugs signal for the brain to release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a powerful feel-good chemical in the brain. When oxytocin is released, cortisol levels in turn lower. This combination regulates emotions, makes one less reactive to stress, and lowers anxiety levels.
Increased Pleasure and Overall Well-being
It’s no secret that social bonds such as friendships are important to many. These relationships are built on endorphins. Endorphins act like glue, holding together our social bonds. Thanks to endorphins we see hugs and other forms of touch with those we are close to as rewarding. When hugging a friend, both people will feel the rewarding benefits of the hug. Oxytocin is released by both parties, bonding the two further. This even applies to relationships with animals such as when we stroke our dog’s head.
Fighting Off Infections
Hugging can play a role in regulating one’s immune system. High levels of anxiety and stress can suppress the immune system’s ability to effectively do its job. Hugs help regulate the body’s hormones, especially oxytocin and cortisol. This regulation of hormones can aid in the immune system responding more effectively to illnesses like colds.
Research was conducted where 400 people were exposed to the common cold. Their hugging frequency was also monitored. The results of the study suggest that those who hugged others more often were less likely to get sick. If they did become sick, they had much less severe symptoms than the non-huggers.
Hug for Your Health
While many areas are still facing strongly enforced restrictions, it is okay to hug your loved ones when safe to do so. Hugging your friends and family can even improve both your physical and mental health. During these times you may be feeling more stressed than usual. Science has proven that one of the best ways to reduce anxiety is stress is by hugging. If it is not safe or restrictions prevent you from hugging your loved ones, that’s okay. Hugging one’s self has the same benefits as hugging another.