Why You Need More Hugs
Hug someone as if you really mean it
Are you a mammal? Then you’re wired to need hugs!
As long as there have been mammals, there has been hugging. Close physical contact from parent to child – in fact, between any two people who are familiar to each other – releases Oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. These marvelous chemicals work around the clock to provide relief from stressful emotions – anxiety, fear, even childbirth – and to get us to do things we wouldn’t do without its overwhelming emotional influence, such as sacrificing ourselves for the ones we love. Hugging also keeps all of us mammals safe, especially when we’re children: we need regular hugs as much as we need regular sleep, food, stimulation and activity, so we keep close to the source of those good things. The need never goes away; we just get involved in other activities as we grow up, often ignoring our own need for contact.
A life without hugs can be devastating, especially when we’re young. Years ago, Psychologist Harry Harlow performed a series of social experiments on monkeys. The way he conducted the studies is now considered inhumane, given the devastating results: he raised monkeys from birth completely isolate from other monkeys. This isolation was so emotionally crippling that it was impossible for the the monkeys raised this way to ever thrive.
We’re not monkeys, needing to cling or stay close to our mothers for our very survival. Yet the reinforcement we humans receive from the positive feedback loop we experience with our parents creates the fabric of our ability to socialize and interact with society as we grow into adult relationships.
Hug the one you’re with
When you’re in a bonded relationship, physical contact with that person creates a positive feedback loop: you hug, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, you feel good, you remember that you felt good, and then you want more hugs. It’s a lovely loop. Yet we often get so busy – and we are separated so much during the day – that we don’t take advantage of the very thing that we need to do in order to feel better. This is particularly true in the United States, and especially in fast-paced Urban environments, like Los Angeles, where I live. My kids often complain about how fast things move. I listen, then I give them a hug. It doesn’t solve all of their problems, but it does help them calm down and get perspective.
Yet its clear that the fast-paced American environment has taken its toll on relationships. Touching between couples is good for their individual health, and for the strength and longevity of the relationship. Loving contact with your partner at the beginning of the day can help us handle stress during the day. Yet American couples are not very touchy in public, and that may contribute to relationship stress. Tiffany Field, from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, compared French couples to American couples, and found that French couples spend 3 times as much time touching when compared to Americans. Field’s research shows touch lowers output of cortisol, a stress hormone. When cortisol dips, there’s a surge of two “feel good” brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. So unless you can afford to move to France (a big hello to my French friends!) where the culture will support and encourage you to be more touchy-feely, regular hugging should be part of your daily routine.
When hugs go wrong
Unwanted or unexpected hugs from strangers – or even people we know – do not cause our brain to release feel-good hormones Instead, we release the stress hormone cortisol. In those circumstances, a hug can be perceived as a threat. Jürgen Sandkühler, Head of the Centre for Brain Research at the Medical University of Vienna, conducted a study on hugs from strangers, and found that hugs from strangers is a “violation of our normal distance-keeping behaviour,” and is “generally perceived as disconcerting or even as threatening.” Instead of reacting positively to a hug, our amygdala flips us into our primitive fight-or-flight response. The giver of the hug often senses this reaction, and a negative feedback loop occurs. Then both people end up walking away from the hug with more stress then when they started!
When in doubt, hug it out
In the right circumstances, hugging is like turning on a switch: endorphin levels rise, blood pressure goes down, happiness goes up, stress goes down. If you haven’t hugged someone today, you’re missing out on one of the best, free, over-the-counter medications money cannot buy. It’s a great simple daily change you can make today. Just be careful not to spontaneously try to hug strangers: you might not get what you’re expecting!
Hug people you know.
- At least four times a day.
- Lower blood pressure
- More happiness
- Lower stress
Clicking the button below will take you to a page where you can add a reminder to your calendar for Hug Someone. You must have a Simple Daily Change account to set up calendar reminders.
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