You may not be a hugger, but maybe you should be. It turns out hugging is actually a
very good thing, and can be beneficial on many levels for both hugger and hugee. (We
just verified this is an actual word—in the Urban Dictionary).
The Healing Power of Hugs on the Body
Hugs create a galvanic response, changing the electrical resistance of the skin. This
creates a more balanced state in the parasympathetic (or involuntary) nervous system.
The skin sensation activates receptors which then send signals to the vagus nerve, the
area of the brain responsible for relaxation and creating memories. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11251731)
Touch and hugging affect the brain the same way chocolate does, by lighting the orbital frontal cortex causing a surge of oxytocin allowing a feeling of trust and
connection. The electrical impulses result in lowering blood pressure and heart rate. ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740822)
A study of married women who were exposed to experimental pain had their brains
scanned while their husbands touched their hands. There was an instant drop in activity in the areas of the brain involved in danger, fear and threat.
The women were calmer and less stressed. A similar but smaller effect occurred with the touch of a stranger.
Hugs stimulate the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that helps with bonding in relationships and promoting empathy.
Stress raises cortisol levels responsible for our
fight or flight response. Hugs lower those levels. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740822)
Hugging’s Healing Effects for the Soul
Hugging helps to boost self-esteem. For babies, hugging is incredibly important for nerve development.
The experience of touch is imprinted on us at a cellular level, and when we are hugged as adults,
we remember that. It helps us to feel secure and confident.
There is something about a hug that makes everything better. It helps boost confidence
before a test, it soothes the hurt of a failed romance, and it makes parting from friends
easier. Physiologically, hugs soothe our nervous system, and psychologically they are
calming and also boost our confidence.
If you want to help your friends, family and yourself embrace them. Give hugs freely and
be grateful for the ones you receive.
“Hugs should be available at the medical stores 24/7. Sometimes, they are the best
healers for almost everything.”
― Minhal Mehdi
If you listen to the news, it’s easy to see our country and our world is rife with conflict and divisiveness. It can be hard to remain positive and hopeful. One thing we can do in response to this sometimes-overwhelming feeling is to simply turn off the news for a while. This strategy is officially called a news fast. The other thing we can do is to actively work to make our own personal world a better place; this can have far-reaching effects—
particularly on our own health.
The Health Benefits of Kindness
There have been a large number of studies conducted by The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. (Yes, this is an actual institution. Learn more at: http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org.) Headed by Stephen G. Post, PhD, bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, the studies have shown that when people are on the giving and/or receiving end of generosity and compassion, their health is improved.
As an example, studies of older adults found those who volunteered lived longer than nonvolunteers. In fact, volunteers had a 44% reduction in early death compared to those who did not volunteer; the effect was greater than exercising four times a week!
Good deeds reduce our stress and boost endorphins, those feel good chemicals we hear about in runners and other athletes. MRI brain studies have actually found what they call the compassion-altruisim axis. The scans show joy and happiness that comes from giving to others. It is something totally different from the emtoion of romantic love, even located in a different part of the brain. It comes from interacting with others, giving a hug, a smile or speaking in a certain tone.
The Bottom Line
Happy, joyful people have both a better quality and quantity of life. They also spread happiness around them. Practice kindness with good deeds. Volunteer, smile at strangers, say a kind word, and/or give lots and lots of hugs for a start.
This new year we suggest you try a news fast to begin with, and encourage you to strive to perpetuate kindness and break the chains of negativity. It is something we all can do for our health and the health of our world.
“It would be easy to become a victim of our circumstances and continue feeling sad, scared or angry; or instead, we could choose to deal with injustice humanely and break the chains of negative thoughts and energies, and not let ourselves sink into it.” –Erin Grunwell, The Freedom Writers Diary