Today is World Hugging Day! We hug others when we’re happy, sad, when we want to offer comfort or congratulations. Hugging is a universal language which conveys so many different things. Not only this, it makes both us and the recipient of our hug feel good. And it turns out that hugging actually makes us healthier and happier.
There are many different mechanisms which are activated in our bodies when we either give or receive a hug. A study found that physical contact from someone we know and trust can change our perception of pain. Physical touch also activates your immune system, making you less likely to get sick (and if you do get sick, it helps ensure that the illness is less severe) and it can help reduce blood pressure.
Hugs and physical touch also has a major impact on our emotional wellbeing. When we are touched by someone we know and trust our bodies release the hormone oxytocin (known as the love chemical). This hormone also combines with dopamine to boost feelings of contentment, happiness and social connection.
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” – Virginia Satir
Don’t have someone to hug? Somewhere along the way, we’ve conflated physical affection with romantic affection and as a result many people feel unable to touch others in their lives. Many of you would be surprised at the positive reaction that you’d encounter if you simply asked ‘can I give you a hug’ to someone you’re acquainted with.
Social isolation is an issue that affects lots of people in our modern world with a growing number of people reporting that they have no close friends. Know that many other people are in a similar situation to yourself. While it can be intimidating at first, try reaching out and taking part in activities through online meeting groups such as meetup.com.
There’s thousands of different activities taking place so you’re sure to find something happening that suits your interests, budget and time constraints. While you’re there you’ll meet other people who you already have something in common with – and in fact there are groups that get together through meetup to give each other hugs!
If you’re not feeling confident joining a group of strangers just now, you can still get many of the same benefits by interacting with pets – hugging a dog or cat, stroking their fur and making eye contact also stimulates a lot of the same chemical cascades that make us feel good after human interaction.
Another way of getting those feel good chemicals happening is to give yourself a massage or gently stroking your arms and face, I taught this technique to people who came along to the stress workshop I ran last year and everyone reported that it really helped them reduce their stress and anxiety levels. So today, I challenge each and every person who reads this article – celebrate World Hugging Day either go and ask someone from a hug, cuddle your pet or give yourself the gift of a massage. Your physical and mental health will thank you!