Hugging and physical touch release oxytocin in people, which is known as the bonding molecule, making us feel more socially bonded and secure.
The arms of a loved one, whether that's your spouse, child, friend or parent, wrapped around you probably makes you feel the same level of comfort as when you were tucked into bed by your parents. It engulfs you in a feeling of being happy and safe, something we probably connect with the warmth of home. The sense of well-being hugging leaves on our hearts and minds also spills over to our physical health.
We already know that babies thrive better when they are hugged, but a loving embrace and physical affection are also good for adults. Here are five ways in which hugging is likely to be good for health:
A loving embrace can reduce the effects of stress on us, but it can also keep us healthier. A study of more than 400 adults, Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness, found that hugging might be able to reduce the chances of a person getting sick. It found that those who had a greater support system, which included physical touch, were less likely to get sick and even if they did get sick, the symptoms would be less severe than those with little to no support system.
Hugging releases oxytocin in the brain, which is also known as “the bonding molecule”. The hormone can improve feelings of intimacy as well as stimulate social bonding. When there is a high level of oxytocin in the body it can remove feelings of loneliness and isolation among people, said the Independent. It also boosts feelings of romantic attachment. And, the benefits are not limited to hugging a human. Even if people hug a dog, they can experience the same feelings, cognitive neuroscience professor Brian Hare told The Washington Post.
"Dogs have somehow hijacked this oxytocin bonding pathway, so that just by making eye contact, or [by] playing and hugging our dog, the oxytocin in both us and our dog goes up," he said.
Hugs are capable of reducing feelings of existential fear in those with low self-esteem, according to psychological scientist and lead researcher Sander Koole of VU University Amsterdam. However, it is not limited to hugs. Any kind of touch can stop them from isolating themselves.
“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” explained Koole to PsychologicalScience.org. They also found that the feeling of reassurance was not limited to touching a human. "Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object — such as a teddy bear — can soothe existential fears," noted Koole.
A research paper, The Effects of Therapeutic Touch on Pain, shows that there are certain kinds of touch that are likely to reduce pain. Another study, Touch the Pain Away: New Research on Therapeutic Touch and Persons With Fibromyalgia Syndrome, showed that when people with fibromyalgia were given six therapeutic touch treatments, they reported a better quality of life and less pain.
The study, Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness, of 404 healthy adults conducted in 2014 by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University also showed that when people were given hugs often it made them less likely to be susceptible to stress. The participants felt more supported socially thanks to the regular hugging, which according to the study's authors also protected them from infection.
"Perceived support protected against the rise in infection risk associated with increasing frequency of conflict," the paper said.