There’s nothing quite like a big hug. An embrace can show affection, offer condolences, be a greeting or a goodbye, and of course provide comfort to our family or friends. But did you know there are science-backed facts about hugs that prove their positive impact on our lives?
They Relieve Stress and Pain
A warm hug often creates a calming or relaxing feeling. That’s because oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” is released when people or pets snuggle up to us. The oxytocin release has been found to potentially:
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve wound healing
- Lessen cravings for drugs, alcohol, and sweets
- Lower heart rate and stress
Getting someone a firm, reassuring hug before or during a stressful event, can help them stay calm because your hug elevates their oxytocin level. In pain? Similar to the way that a hug can reduce stress, it also decreases pain. A 20-second hug can release enough oxytocin to make you feel better. Research from the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders suggests that weighted blankets simulate being held or hugged. The weight of the blanket creates pressure points that relieve anxiety and can help you sleep.
They Strengthen Our Immune System
A hug a day may, in fact, keep the doctor away. In 2014, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University studied 400 healthy adults and social support in the form of hugs. For two weeks, participants were asked about the number of interpersonal conflicts they experienced and the number of hugs they received each day. The researchers then exposed participants to a common cold virus. What they found was that the more often people received social support and hugs, the less likely they were to get sick — even those who experienced conflict frequently.
They Make Us Happier
Hugging increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter known as the “feel good” hormone. It is produced and spread by neurons in the brain that help us feel happy, calm, and confident. When serotonin levels are high, we feel good about ourselves. Low levels of serotonin can cause sleep disorders, depression, and lead to obesity. Hugging triggers the release of serotonin to create happiness and help diminish sad feelings.
They Help Deepen Our Relationships
We instinctively want to hug friends or loved ones that are in pain. Sometimes we forget how meaningful a hug can be. In a nonverbal way, hugs communicate peace and understanding of each other. Don’t underestimate the healing power of a hug. Just as we exercise to stay in shape and watch what we eat to stay healthy, a hug can boost the mood and connection we have with the people we care about.