Free Hugs

Wed 2015-06-17

Science of the Spirit lists 8 benefits of hugging that I would like to share with you.


In a study on fears and self-esteem, research published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that hugs and touch significantly reduce worry of mortality. The studies found that hugging -- even if it was just an inanimate object like a teddy bear -- helps soothe individuals' existential fears. "Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance," lead researcher Sander Koole wrote in the study.


Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system, the brain's emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment, reducing anxiety and stress, and even making mammals monogamous. It is the hormone responsible for us all being here today. You see this little gem is released during childbirth, making our mothers forget about all of the excruciating pain they endured expelling us from their bodies and making them want to still love and spend time with us. New research from the University of California suggests that it has a similarly civilizing effect on human males, making them more affectionate and better at forming relationships and social bonding. And it dramatically increased the libido and sexual performance of test subjects. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate. The chemical has also been linked to social bonding. "Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding," DePauw University psychologist Matt Hertenstein told NPR. "It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people." When we hug someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies by our pituitary gland, lowering both our heart rates and our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.


Embracing someone may warm your heart, but according to one study a hug can be good medicine for it too: In an experiment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill , participants who didn't have any contact with their partners developed a quickened heart rate of 10 beats per minute compared to the five beats per minute among those who got to hug their partners during the experiment.


Everything everyone does involves protecting and triggering dopamine flow. Many drugs of abuse act through this system. Problems with the system can lead to serious depression and other mental illness. Low dopamine levels also play a role in the neurodegenerative disease Parkinson's as well as mood disorders such as depression. Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine and hugs are said to adjust those levels. Dopamine is responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling, and it's also responsible for motivation! Hugs stimulate brains to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone. MRI and PET scans reveal that when you hug people or listen to music that excites you, your brain releases dopamine and even in anticipation of those moments.


Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Loneliness and depression appear when serotonin is absent. It's perhaps one reason why people fall into gang and criminal activity -- the culture brings experiences that facilitate serotonin release. Reaching out and hugging releases endorphins and serotonin into the blood vessels and the released endorphins and serotonin cause pleasure and negate pain and sadness and decrease the chances of getting heart problems, helps fight excess weight and prolongs life. Even the cuddling of pets has a soothing effect that reduces the stress levels. Hugging for an extended time lifts one's serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.


Want to do something for future generations? Hug them when they're still little. An Emory University study in rats found a link between touch and relieving stress, particularly in the early stages of life. The research concluded that the same can be said of humans, citing that babies' development -- including how they cope with stress as adults -- depends on a combination of nature and nurture.


Hugs balance out the nervous system. The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped pressure centres called Pacinian corpuscles that can sense touch and which are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system - parasympathetic.


Research shows that the hug hormones above are immuno-regulatory. All of this has an even deeper meaning on the way our systems work with each other, including our immune system. This also parallels with the way that hugs promote the relaxation response -- they help to change the way your body handles both physical and social stresses, thus boosting your immune system naturally, to do the job it was designed to do!

In a similar article by Mind Body Green, they concluded with this touching paragraph: “There is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, ‘We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.’ Eight or more might seem quite high, but while researching and writing this article I asked my child, ‘How many hugs a day do you like?’ She said, ‘I'm not going to tell you how many I like, but it's way more than eight.’ That really made me smile and touched my heart. And, I realized how organic and deep the need for hugs is.”

Now that I’ve shown you how awesome and important hugs are, let me be honest with you: Originally this post was going to be about cuddles, not just about hugs. I wanted to present the argument that cuddling with friends and family is great and that people shouldn’t see affectionate friends as being romantically interested in each other. But when I looked up “benefits of cuddling,” it was all sex stuff and partner stuff. That doesn’t help my argument at all, now does it!

So I’m going to present my opinion without any supporting article…

There are affectionate people in the world. I am an affectionate person. My whole family, especially including myself, is very affectionate and we’re frequently lovey-dovey with each other. That’s how I was raised and that’s how I am as a person. People see our interactions with each other as strange, but accept it since we are related by blood.

But they don’t seem to accept it as non-sexual when we don’t share genetic code and are of opposite gender. People who know me well know I’m just very affectionate, but people who don’t know me as well seem to see more than there actually is. For example, I was having a bad day at my 21st birthday party and wanted the support of my fellow affectionate friend, so I put a pillow on his lap and rested on him. If he was my biological brother or a girl friend I wouldn’t have gotten all the comments and suggestions that I sit up. I’m sorry, I need support when I’m sad just like any other human! And another friend’s girlfriend (now ex) often hinted that there was more going on with my affectionate friend -- Me: “I can’t wait to see everyone!” Her: “Especially [him], right?” and such. This makes things awkward that should instead be celebrated.

Fortunately, I don’t usually experience the looks and comments because I save my explosion of affection for when I’m with people who understand me. We’ll be sitting together and suddenly I’ll stand up, outstretch my arms, and demand hugs from everyone. Or I’ll just go around and hug all of them individually. Sometimes I’ll lay on them, tickle them, rough house with them -- just as you would your sister or brother. We’re a family! And to me, that means they get all the love and affection and cuddles that I would give my siblings.

Some of my friends aren’t so touchy, and I totally get that! That’s one of the main reasons why I am more affectionate with my one affectionate friend and people get ideas. I totally respect everyone’s right to their personal space and their preferences. There’s nothing wrong with not liking hugs and cuddles (even though they’re awesome). However, there IS something wrong with treating affectionate girls like sluts and making assumptions about people you don’t understand.

If it wasn’t for all the societal limits, I would express even more affection and feel a lot more comfortable being open with everyone. I really love cuddling with friends. I’m highly sensitive and highly social, which makes cuddles especially amazing for me. It increases my comfort and security and makes me feel really great! And I think it makes my friends feel really great too. Nothing compares to the comforting and supportive touch of a friend.

So please stop judging affectionate people for being who they are and let’s hug each other!


By Britt, Category: Silly

Tags: persuasive / love /