Doesn’t a hug make us feel all fuzzy and warm from within? Apart from the beautiful feeling that it invokes, it is believed that a hug possesses health benefits as well. So, not only does a hug make us feel more connected to our loved ones, but it might also have the power to protect us from sicknesses.
We are all well aware that stress can weaken an individual’s state of health or immunity (1). So, various studies have been conducted to determine whether any social support, including hugs, can help people overcome stress-related illnesses (2). Or, if such positive acts help in boosting the immunity.
A primary concern for any mother is to ensure her infant’s wellbeing. Therefore, mommies usually take extensive precautions to ensure their baby’s good health. But, there is a simple way to do that as well. By hugging your tiny tot for 15 seconds (or even more), you might actually be doing a great thing for your tiny tot. Apart from bettering your baby’s health, this news gives you an excuse to hug your baby even more, isn’t it?
But, do these toddlers always like being hugged? Not always! While one of your babies might not mind you hugging him/her for all the 24 hours in a day, the other might feel fidgety after 5 seconds itself. However, if you patiently give it a chance, you’ll notice the other one slowly embracing (pun intended!) your hug-fest too.
Paul Zak, who is from the field of neuroeconomics, is trying to explore how the oxytocin hormone can invoke emotions such as empathy, generosity, and trust in people. Usually, social interactions, including hugs, release this very “love” hormone, oxytocin, in the brain’s pituitary gland. Thus, hugs can fill a person with the aforementioned positive emotions. He, in fact, recommends a minimum of eight hugs in a day to enjoy better and happier relationships (3).
Also, the physical contact caused during a hug can activate pressure receptors or Pacinian corpuscles present on the skin. These egg-shaped receptors or pressure centers further transmit signals to the tenth cranial nerve – the vagus nerve. Since the vagus nerve is connected with nerve fibers that regulate a body’s key functions like blood pressure, it makes a person feel good. These nerves are also connected to the heart. Thus, a hug can calm down one’s rapid heart rate (4).
A family therapist and psychologist, Virginia Satir, states that a person needs around four hugs to survive, eight hugs to keep him/her the way he/she is, and over 12 hugs to evolve and grow (5).
If a person hugs someone for 20 seconds along with a 10-minute session of hand-holding, it can drastically reduce the unhealthy physical effects induced by stress. This also applies to the impact stress has on one’s cardiovascular health (6). It makes sense since hugging is known to reduce the hormones and chemicals released during stress, such as cortisol (7).
As discussed earlier, the vagus nerves are connected to different organs and nerve fibers throughout the body. These nerves are connected to oxytocin receptors too. Thereby, hugging triggers a boost in oxytocin hormones, which in turn lead to more health benefits (8).
In an interview with the Huffington Post, neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, said that even a friendly shake or a pat on the back is processed in the central nervous system as a reward. This is why such social interactions have a strong positive impact on an individual’s psyche. It gives a boost to a person’s happiness and joy regardless of whether he/she is a touchee or toucher (9).
The bottom line is that no one minds being hugged, not even your babies. Everyone loves a warm and tight hug. And, the icing on the cake is that this act of love has health benefits too! So, we suggest that you start today itself. Go hug your kid now! It doesn’t matter whether he/she is a two-month-old or a 15-year-old, just do it. And, see the miracle unfold!
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