Hello and welcome to my warm and fuzzy page about the healing benefits of hugs!
Who doesn’t love a big hug?
You may think that everyone does, but yes, there are people who don’t really enjoy it very much at all ……..and can’t you feel it ! It feels as feels as if they cant wait for you to let go!
Maybe they were not hugged as a child, maybe they’ve been hurt and they’re protecting themselves , maybe they simply just don’t like physical closeness for any number of reasons (see bottom of post for more )
However , having acknowledged the above in this post, I want to talk generally about the physical,emotional and psychological effects of a great big hug, especially for those who have suffered narcissistic abuse.
Now I think you will agree there are hugs and there are hugs……..so many options!
The “waist and neck” hug commonly used by couples or very close friends…
The man hug ..
The besties hug…
The hug you give when someone is sad…..
The hug you give when someone is anxious..
The running jump hug…….
The group hug!
The good old “I’m so happy to see you ” hug………
not forgetting one of the best ..the sleepy hug
..and lastly the very important “self love” hug !
So what are the healing benefits of hugs in general ?
Hugs can :
Reduce stress and lower anxiety which has the spin off effect of lowering cortisol levels which in turn reduces the risks of heart disease! Phew…..take deep breath!
Increase the levels of seratonin …the feel good chemical in the brain (often depleted in people with depression )
Increase levels of oxytocin…the hormone of love!
Help us sleep better.
Increase our resistance to cold , flu and illness in general by strengthening our immune system.
Stave off feelings of loneliness or isolation and increase happiness (its those wonderful endorphins we hear so much about!) Free hugging is a great way to give a lonely person some “good medicine”!
Relax our bodies.
Increase feelings of trust and the willingness of people to share problems they otherwise may not.
Increase self esteem….hugs can serve to bring back those childhood feelings of being hugged by our parents and feeling special , cared about and loved . Our body never forgets those feelings which means that every time we are hugged we are reminded of how we felt as a child and enable us to feel
good about ourselves .
Stimulate the thymus gland which has to do with the production of leukocytes (white blood cells) which fight infection and illness.
Release endorphins which block pain pathways and alleviate muscle aches by increasing circulation to the sore areas.
Let’s delve deeper into WHY and HOW hugs can do so much for us?
Its all about hormones and our nervous system and the effect that being close and/or having skin contact with another person can have on us ……..the good news is that cuddling a pet or getting up close and friendly with any cute and cuddly animal can have similar effects too so if you’re all out of humans , go for a pet hug !
The feel good hormones and chemicals involved in this huggy business are :
Oxytocin is commonly known as the love hormone, its responsible for the conception of many a baby and then during delivery oxytocin plays and important role in relaxing mum to be during labour . Then during breastfeeding its the hormone that is involved when mum’s milk “comes in ” and also when it “lets down” …..even thinking about my babies when I was out and about (without the baby) was enough for the love hormone to stimulate lactation and bingo…… big wet patches leaked on my shirt !!
All breastfeeding mums will know what I mean ! So you can see why a great big hug can stimulate oxytocin and is therefore calming and increases connectedness and feelings of positivity !
Seratonin as mentioned above is lacking in those with people who have depression . The pleasurable feeling that comes with a hug releases the chemical seratonin into our blood stream. The bonus, apart from making us feel better and improving our mood is the decrease in the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Even the cuddling of pets has a soothing effect that reduces the stress . Pets are great in so many ways !
Dopamine…is known as the “pleasure hormone” . People with too little dopamine in their blood stream don’t derive pleasure from things they used to . I know this because my father had Parkinson’s disease in later life . He went from being a happy outgoing person to a quiet old man over a period of time and also became depressed due in part to having too little dopamine. Fortunately, my Dad was a very “huggy” sort of person so we did our best to keep him in good supply of dopamine!
Endorphins…..are neurotransmitters which, as the name suggests, transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. … they can actually have a similar effect to commonly used pain killers such as codeine and morphine in terms of how we feel pain . So …get hugging next time you have pain!!
When you are hugging you aren’t thinking about too much else……….hugs force us to be in the moment, to let go and be present in the moment, connecting with the person with their arms around you …..AND they have other random benefits that I bet you hadn’t thought of either!
1. They’re cheap as chips .
2. You don’t have to make an appointment to get one (unlike a massage!)
3. They don’t take much time (although as discussed the longer the better!).
4. They can be given almost anywhere and at anytime .
5. You can hug big people and little people , old people and babies .
6. To receive a hug you have to give one so it’s a two way transaction !
HUGS are so versatile !! Get hugging NOW !
How does a FIRMER hug work even more effectively than an everyday friendly hug ?
The pressure that is felt during a firm hug stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and calms you down .
As happens with a child having a tantrum , when you first hold them tight and they struggle, its because for a few seconds they feel threatened and are trying to “flee” (as in the fight or flight response which is the the sympathetic nervous system trying to ” save ” us from danger ) but very quickly when the parasympathetic system kicks in the child stops struggling and relaxes. Same goes for ” big kids” !
It’s a pretty sophisticated system but sometimes the parasympathetic still needs a bit of help , such as a HUG, in order to overcome our anxious state of mind .
How does skin contact help ?
The link between our feelings of self-worth and having been cuddled by our parents or caregivers from babyhood onward stays with us into adulthood.
As a former midwife I know that babies who are not held regularly will generally fail to thrive compared to those who’s parents are more tactile with their kids. In extreme cases of neglect babies eventually learn not to cry because they know that no one is coming to comfort them so they give up crying . So so sad .
When we give someone a hug we are usually very close to them and probably have some degree of skin contact.
The skin has very sensitive nerve endings as well as pressure sensitive areas that can sense touch. You know when you sustain a burn superficially it gives you grief for hours because the nerve endings are right there under the skin . But if you sustain a deeper burn, which is obviously a more severe injury, you may feel almost nothing because the surface nerve endings have all been destroyed by the burn .
How long should a hug be ? How many do we need ?
How long is a piece of string? As many as you like ! As many as you can fit it! As many as you can give and get in the course of your day! The more the better !
The literature says that 8 hugs a day is a good amount!!I’m sure their are people who give/receive a few hugs a day , especially those with little children and some who receive none on a daily basis , especially older people living alone. I don’t think there are many of us who would fit in 8 but we should all be giving it our best shot and trying for as many as possible every day!
As for length of time for a hug , I think that’s an individual thing . As the infographic below says 20secs is ideal for release of oxytocin but I’m pretty sure that whether short ,long or in-between , a firm hug of almost any length is valuable in so many ways to those involved !
Well its over and out for me now ….but not without a big hug to you all!
Hug someone you love …OR… offer a free hug to a stranger today …OR…hug yourself!
And please let me know your thoughts about your own hugging experiences below, I’d love to hear about a time when a simple hug made your day!
NB. I should say that some individuals including those with autism and those who have been physically and or sexually abused may not be able to cope with physical contact. Unexpected physical contact can sometimes be quite harmful to the victim . If you know or suspect that someone has autism or is a victim of sexual or physical abuse please respect their personal space and ask first if it is ok to give them a hug.