How many hugs have you had today? One, two, three or ten? Maybe zero, which is quite possible if you live alone or don’t have someone who you can hug on a daily basis. Why do I ask? Well, recently I found myself in a situation where I didn’t have the chance to hug for a rather long time and it got me thinking about hugs…
Let me start from the beginning and put this in to context. I was and still am very fortunate to be a part of a family in which hugging is a daily thing. When I was young both my parents would hug me when I woke up, when I got home from school/they got home from work and before I went to bed, although the hugs certainly weren’t limited to these times. Then, when I moved to school in Adelaide I was very lucky to find a beautiful group of girls who also hugged daily. We would hug when we first got to school, during school (especially when stressed) and as we said goodbye at the end of each day. Long story short: I am accustomed to at least a few hugs each day.
Then when I moved to Melbourne, as a natural side effect of not knowing anyone in this city very well, the daily hugs just stopped. At first I didn’t notice this at all, as all of the other changes and new adventures were keeping me occupied. But in the last month I started to notice myself craving physical contact with other people (NO, not that kind of contact…). I was craving those little, mindless touches, kisses on the cheeks and most of all – hugs!
And that got me wondering about the purpose of hugs and why they are such a vital part of our social interactions with others. After talking to some of the wise people in my life and a bit of Google research, here is what I found:
- Hugs make you happier. When you hold a hug for an extended period of time (20 seconds or longer) it causes the release of the neurotransmitter oxytocin from your brain, as well as the “happy” hormone serotonin. Hugging is a natural antidepressant.
- Hugs relieve stress and anxiety. As well as making you happy, the hormones released when we hug help us to relieve anxiety and stress, plus the act of hugging is associated with a sense of comfort and security, which also aids to relieve these feelings.
- Hugs are good for your heart and lower blood pressure. Studies have found that hugging causes a lower heart rate, and the skin-to-skin contact involved in hugging causes a physiological response that lowers blood pressure. So hugging is both physically and emotionally good for your heart.
- Hugs boost self-esteem and lower fears. The simple act of a hug can reduce feelings of fear because of the comfort provided by it. Hugs are also associated with a sense of being loved and accepted, and so regular hugs lead to an increase in self-esteem.
- Hugs bond us together. Oxytocin, also know as the “cuddle hormone”, is an important factor in social bonding. Being hugged is an evolutionary behaviour that as a child lets us know that we are loved and safe. Whilst we grown up, our DNA and our cells are still that of the little child who needs love from their parents and/or tribe.
I found an interesting quote about hugs too:
“We need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance and twelve for growth.” – Virginia Satir.
In response to my lack of hugs, I have now made conscious efforts to give and receive hugs as often as I can. Luckily I have some pretty cool housemates and uni friends, so it can only go onwards and upwards from here.
So get out there and hug people!
Keep healthy and happy,