Why Hugs Make You Healthy

I could really do with a hug right now… being in a long-distance relationship, and with Covid scuppering weekend plans like it’s going out of fashion, I’m running very low on cwtches, and feeling it.

So today my question is, have you ever wondered why we crave contact, cuddles, physical touch – and why they feel so good? Long story short, it’s because we’re human! Which may sound facile, but – we really are born to cwtch. Babies who are regularly cuddled sleep better and develop stronger bonds with their caregivers. As we then grow into adults, those of us who are huggers have lower blood pressure, healthier immune systems and better mental health than the less tactile.

See, what happens when you hug someone you love is that a hormone called oxytocin starts flowing from your pituitary gland into your bloodstream, and throughout your body. When it floods your brain, it calms down activity in the prefrontal cortex – all of the overthinking, self-criticism, endless planning and worrying – and replaces it with a sense of connection, compassion, safety and trust. A feeling that all is well. It even lowers cortisol, one of the “stress hormones”. So you really can relieve stress or anxiety, and even physical pain, with cuddles – it’s a chemical magic wand!

That flow of oxytocin really starts to mean business when physical touch is sustained for at least twenty seconds. Yes, it *might* be a little bit awkward to hug someone for that long unless you’re very, very close, but here’s a solution: pets. Pets are the answer! You can reap the same rewards from stroking your dog or cat (or those of the neighbour you have just hugged!), and they will feel the same benefits too.

If no huggable animals are around… hug a cushion! Weird, yes – but a 2013 study in Japan showed that even just holding and squeezing a cushion was enough to reduce stress levels. You can read about the study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805974/pdf/srep03034.pdf

On that note, I’m off to pet my dog.

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