There’s a reason why we crave a good ol’ bear hug when we are feeling down. Hugs are one of the most fulfilling acts humankind can perform.
Hugs are immensely powerful. We can hug in various places and in different situations. They can form the start of a new friendship, a farewell to a loved one, a safety net in uncertain times, give our partner comfort when hugging in bed, or a reminder of the love shared with another. Even hugging a tree is known to have positive benefits!
In short, hugs are fantastic. But I’m sure you already knew that.
So, what exactly makes that warm embrace so incredible, and how is it enhancing your life?
What are the benefits of hugging?
1. Hugging reduces stress
That’s right; a warm hug can help you feel less stressed. You see, hugs reduce the release of a hormone called cortisol, which is responsible for creating stress in the body.
Not only that, but hugs can represent home and familiarity, creating a comfortable coping mechanism to help you deal with stressful situations.
As the hug allows you to be present and in the moment, it can act as a form of mindfulness, helpful when dealing with extreme stress, anxiety or depression. It also just makes your body less reactive to stress in general as it creates the reminder of a support system for the hard days.
In fact, there are some businesses that specialise in hug therapy to deal with trauma and stress – so you know it works!
You don’t even always need to hug a real life person. In fact hugging a tree has been shown to reduce stress, and allow yourself to connect with nature, all while promoting the release of hormones serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel happier and calmer.
2. Hugging reduces blood pressure
With the stress reduction, it makes sense that your blood pressure would come down as well.
But that’s not the only reason. When you hug, you tend to be still in embrace. When you stay in this position for a while, it allows your heart rate to rest, and as you get more comfortable, your blood pressure lowers.
This then means that your risk of heart disease and illness is reduced.
In fact, experiments have shown that not having contact with their partner increased their heart rate compared to those that were allowed to embrace their partner during the research period, further cementing the idea that a hug can promote heart health.
3. Hugging protects from illness
Who needs a vitamin c boost when hugs have been proven to boost your immune system?! Due to the regulation of hormones in the body that occurs from regular hugs, your body becomes better at fighting disease.
And the mental health benefits also help support your system. Studies have shown that there is a positive trend between having a greater support system and being less likely to get sick. Yet another excuse to grab a loved one for a cheeky cuddle in the middle of the day.
The benefits don’t stop at your immune system, though. Scientists have found that those who receive more touches and hugs have faster muscle regeneration than their non-hugging counterparts.
So, I guess the best post-workout protein shake is a long, warm embrace!
4. Hugging builds trust
Allowing someone into your personal space, such as through a hug, requires a lot of trust. And the more you hug it out, the stronger the bond grows. You become more in tune with each other. This is particularly true when hugging in bed.
It becomes a form of silent communication that allows you to connect with another individual on a deeper level. You learn to be still with them. No words are required—just presence.
When you can be around someone comfortably and not feel the need to speak, you know you have a lot of trust in them.
Not to mention, hugging is a sign of emotional support. We learn to trust not only others but ourselves when we have a robust support system around us. And hugging is one of the more physical ways that your support system manifests its powers.
5. Hugging increases happiness
After hugging for 20 seconds, researchers found that the body releases the hormone oxytocin. One of the effects the hormone is known to have is increasing levels of happiness. Women, in particular, benefit from the extra release of oxytocin when it comes to improved levels of satisfaction.
And honestly, how can you not feel happier embracing the people you like and love most on this planet. There is a calming effect that washes over you during a hug that leads to a more profound sense of happiness.
A good hug makes you feel like you’re at home. It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
Finally, hugging helps fight loneliness. Increased levels of loneliness are known to contribute to mental health problems like depression and can also have a negative impact on your physical health.
A friendly, long hug reminds your body that you are not alone. And there is no greater comfort than knowing there is someone there for you.
6. Hugging improves sleep
We know how much touch and comfort from hugging can help us relax. So it’s no wonder a good pre-bed cuddle will help you get your much needed eight hours of shut-eye.
If you have a partner, cuddles in bed are even better to help you drift off into a peaceful night’s sleep. Having them in your embrace creates a feeling of security that allows you to calm down and focus on falling asleep after a tough day.
There’s some hard science to back this too. As we know, hugs help to lower cortisol levels which play a role in regulating sleep cycles. Too much cortisol leads to waking up in the middle of the night and not getting restful sleep. So the reduction in cortisol from a nice hug will allow you to wake up feeling more rested.
7. Hugging reduces pain
In childbirth, a mother’s body will release oxytocin to aid the process. One of its functions is to reduce the pain of giving birth.
As we saw earlier, oxytocin is also released when hugging for over 20 seconds. Therefore, a hug is an effective way of reducing the experience of physical pain.
In fact, a treatment called touch therapy has been successfully introduced as a way to help those suffering from fibromyalgia experience less pain.
But hugging doesn’t just help with physical pain. Through its act of support, hugs allow people to feel less emotional pain too.
8. Improves intimacy with partners
Hugging and kissing in bed can improve the intimacy and relationship you have with your partner. Doing so releases hormones in the body called oxytocin. This particular hormone is often referred to as the love hormone. While oxytocin is most notably known for inducing labour and milk production stimulation, it is also beneficial for forming a bond romantically between you and your partner. Regular hugging and kissing in bed is also known to help a couple’s sex life, all the more reason to be a hugging couple!
Different types of hugs
Not a keen hugger? Maybe you just never found the position that resonates with you. Here are five different hugs to try out so you can start reaping the benefits:
- Bear hug - A strong, face to face hug that involves a nice, sturdy squeeze.
- Side to side hug - If you’re not a fan of facing someone when you hug them, try embracing them on the side. This can look like putting your hand around someone’s shoulder or waist while standing next to them.
- Spooning or Hugging in Bed - Hugging in bed, or spooning, is perfect for couples looking for an intimate connection, and creates a nice dynamic. In essence, spooning is the act of hugging from behind. The person in front (the little spoon) feels protected, while the person behind (the big spoon) creates a sense of being the protector or emotional support.
- Hug around the waist - We often think of hugs as being around the neck or shoulder region, but hugs around the waist can be more intimate and provide much-needed emotional support. Just be conscious of hugging tightly.
- One-sided hug - In a one-sided hug, one person will pull the other person in for a hug. Usually, this looks like one person resting their head on the other person’s chest while that person embraces them.
How to get more hugs in your life
Now you know why you need more hugs in your life; you might be wondering how to get them. Especially if you live alone or aren’t around people often.
Here are some ways to get more cuddles in your life:
1. Ask friends or family
Pretty simple, but when you visit your loved ones, ask them if they would be open to giving you a long hug. Remember, even if you are family, consent is always required.
2. Hug your pets
Studies show that you can get the same benefits from hugging pets as you can from humans. So next time you are feeling down, grab your cat, dog, guinea pig, or whichever pet you own and give them a long, gentle cuddle.
No pets? No worries. Pet cafes are becoming more popular, so Google local pet cafes in your area and go and enjoy the benefits of hugging an animal.
3. Hug therapy
The benefits of hugging are so positive that there are therapists whose job it is to heal your emotional pain through the act of hugging.
You can find a meet up for almost any occasion these days. And this includes strangers meeting up to give hugs. So if you think you would be comfortable with this, find a meet up near you and give it a try.
Final thoughts on the benefits of hugging
Hugs are the cheapest antidote to emotional pain and ill health. They provide a sense of security and bonding with those around you, allowing you to feel happier.
So the next time someone approaches you with arms wide open, don’t be afraid to embrace them back!