Sometimes, words fail to express how much we love someone or how much we want to comfort them. It is in those instances that we realise hugging works like a charm. After all, it is an intimate expression of love and affection.
In fact, Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh advocates hugging meditation. He believes that a good hug can impact a person’s life in beautiful ways. He writes in his book Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices: “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.” Even psychotherapist Virginia Satir is known to have said: “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
Let's look into the benefits hugging has on the mind and body before celebrating this affectionate gesture:
Alleviates stress and relieves depression
When we feel blue, all we need is a hug from someone we love. When we hug, the pressure receptors under the skin trigger an increase in oxytocin (pleasure hormone), which calms the body. It decreases the heart rate and reduces cortisol and norepinephrine (stress hormones). What’s more, hugging also triggers the brain to release natural anti-depressant chemicals–endorphin and serotonin–which help reduce pain and sadness.
Strengthens the immune system
Who would have thought that a hug a day could keep doctors away! In a study conducted by Dr Sheldon Cohen, Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, some adults were exposed to the common cold virus and monitored for symptoms. The results showed that those who had good social support and received regular hugs had few or no symptoms at all, while the ones who received few or no hugs exhibited various symptoms. Also, a research by the University of North Carolina suggests that hugging activates the solar plexus chakra. It increases the body’s production of white blood cells, which can keep us healthier, the study finds.
Treats loneliness and reduces fear
Loneliness is not really defined by the absence of people, but by the absence of love. All it takes to drive that loneliness away is a hug. Naturally, psychotherapists now consider hugging a therapy for anxiety. In fact, a study on fear and self-esteem published in the journal Psychological Science reveals that hugging releases happy hormones–serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin. These, in turn, reduce fear and anxiety.
Encourages empathy and understanding
Besides bringing two people physically close, a warm hug also encourages understanding between the two individuals. A good hug that lasts for at least 20 seconds triggers the release of oxytocin, which induces the feeling of love and understanding. No wonder hugging is a classic expression of empathy.