The Benefits of Hugging & Hug Therapy

benefits of hugging

Isn’t hugging a wonderful thing!!!

In my humble opinion there really isn’t enough of it going on.
And considering all the damn awesome benefits of hugging there are to be had, I think it’s about time we changed that!

We need to give up being so ultra-reserved and polite (especially us Brits) and take a few extra moments out of our day to get some proper hug therapy.

And when I say hug therapy, I mean using genuine heartfelt hugging, not that fake hugging which is all over in a nano-second.

So hug like you mean it people.  Cos we need to start spreading the love.
And here’s some very good reasons why hugging should be part of that…

What Happens When We DON’T Hug?

Physical touch is a crucial part of our development, from the day that we’re born.  And that’s because we’re social, warm-blooded creatures that thrive on contact and connection.

We know that children who grow up deprived of touch can develop personality disorders and have difficulty forming healthy social connections.  They can also end up with cognitive delay, higher rate of infections and severe attachment anxiety.

One study examined the effects of touch on the development of 20 premature babies being kept in an intensive care unit.  And it was found that just 15 minutes of touch given three times a day, led to marked improvements in their growth and developmental performance, over the group that were more touch-deprived [1].

But even in later life, hugging and physical contact is still just as essential to health and well-being.  After all think of how many older people live on their own, with little or no contact with anyone every day that goes by.

For those people too, hugging and physical presence can be immensely nurturing, if not more so than for the rest of us.

So increasing physical contact and using hug therapy, is a seriously powerful path to healing for everyone!

The Many Health Benefits Of Hugging

1  Release Of Oxytocin

Oxytocin is our love hormone and is released from the pituitary gland during hugging, to increase bonding between loved ones.  It boosts feelings of connection, trust and contentment in relationships.

And this happens especially between parent and child, but also between adults who share hugs and affection.  In turn, oxytocin can enhance intimacy, closeness, optimism and general feelings of well-being.  As well as help lower levels of anxiety and stress [1b][1a].

2  Lowers Cortisol & Stress

One of the best benefits of hugging is that it helps to reduce our stress levels and lord knows we need some more of that in our lives!

The release of more oxytocin is partly responsible for this reduction in cortisol (the so-called ‘stress’ hormone).  But also just the feel-good factor of hugging helps to calm the nervous system and increase overall contentment.

Lowered stress levels can also lower blood pressure, heart rate and risks for developing heart disease further down the line [2].

3  Boosts Immunity

The reduction in stress, also means the immune system becomes less suppressed which has benefits for all sorts of health problems.

One study actually looked at how hugging provided stress-buffering and some protection against colds and respiratory illness.  Even those who developed colds in the hugging study, appeared to have less severe symptoms [3].

4  Strengthens Social Bonds

Now this really is one of the most obvious benefits of hugging.
The sense of touch is the most fundamental language for demonstrating love and care.  It breaks all barriers between different races and even different species.

The natural world uses close contact and physical touch to strengthen health in species everywhere you look, even in worms (yep I said worms) [4a].
It really is a key part of species survival and family-group behaviour.

In humans, researchers looking at marriage longevity found that couples that hugged more often had longer marriages than those that didn’t.  Well surprise surprise!

Now that may seem like a complete no-brainer, but still not enough of us are hugging regularly in our intimate relationships! [4].

5  Lowers Pain Levels

Because touch and hug therapy releases different feel-good neurotransmitters within the brain, this can have a positive effect on pain-levels as well [5b].

The pleasure chemicals dopamine, serotonin and endorphins can all counteract the severity and perception of pain within the body [5][5a].

6  Protects The Heart

A number of different scientific studies have found that the benefits of hugging even extend to improvements in cardiovascular health and blood pressure [6].

Elevations of both heart rate and blood pressure were found to be less in groups of huggers, compared to non-huggers.  And this was especially the case for female huggers who took part [6a].

7  Fights Depression

Because hugging is so good at improving mood and raising levels of feel-good neurotransmitters, it also has a place in treatment of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The minimum four-hugs-a-day technique is a great place to start for mood-improvement and you can use it as part of your hug therapy which I explore in more detail below [7].

hug therapy

Hug Therapy

So to get the maximum benefits of hugging, you can utilise hug therapy in some or all of the following ways.  Obviously the more ways, the merrier: –

  • The Hugging Meditation – For real hug therapy, use the hugging meditation with family, friends and even trees…
    1)  Share a hug together, whilst taking three deep breaths.
    2)  With the first breath, acknowledge your presence in the hug.
    3)  With the second breath, acknowledge your partner’s presence.
    4)  With the third breath, feel gratitude for the hugging.
  • Increase hugging frequency & length – Make a concerted effort to hug loved ones more often and for at least 10 seconds each time.  Explain to close friends why you want to hug them more and they’re bound to oblige you happily!
    And remember in order to reap the true benefits of hugging, polite hugs are pointless, we’re talking full-body hugs only.
  • Teddy bears & pets – Now initially this may feel daft, but hugging a cuddly toy if there’s no-one else around to grab hold off, can still have similar benefits to your well-being.
    Pets too, offer a source of warmth and affection in the absence of other humans.  Cats may not tolerate being held so much, but a chilled-out dog will likely enjoy the physical touch as much as you.
  • Seek out touch in other ways – And if you’re all maxed-out on hug therapy, there are other fab ways to increase touch in your life, such as through massage therapy, shiatsu, osteopathy and cranial-sacral therapy.
    They all have amazing benefits for mental and physical health.

” When we hug our hearts connect
and we know that we are not separate beings.
Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding
and much happiness.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

So get out there and get hugging my friends, life’s just too short not to. x

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