The Science & Magic of Hugs
Ok, that title is a lie. It’s all science. But the amount of good that comes from hugging really does seem like magic. A good hug is such a simple thing that it boggles the mind to see what an amazing affect it can have.
Let’s talk about what happens when you’re hugging another human being. First, awesome things happen to the balance of your hormones. Oxytocin goes up, and cortisol goes down. Those are both good things. Cortisol is a hormone that is associated with stress and anxiety. Unless you’re being hunted, you want as little of that as possible in your system. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone”. It’s associated with forming deep bonds with other people. Hugging makes your relationships stronger. Oxytocin can also help reduce pain and calm anxious nerves.
There are also health and psychological benefits to hugging. Studies have shown that women who receive hugs from their loved ones often lower blood pressure and lower resting heart rates. They’ve also found that if you hug it out today, tomorrow’s going to be a brighter day. These particular studies were done on women, and although there haven’t been any similar studies done on men, I know I feel a heck of a lot better after a good hug. So will the men in your life.
Hugging your kids is vital to their healthy psychological development. The more hugs kids get when they’re young, the better their oxytocin and cortisol levels are as they mature. High oxytocin and low cortisol are linked to better behaviour in kids. Positive touch on a regular basis can help build trust between two people. The more you hug your kids, the more they’ll trust you. And it’ll help their self-esteem too.
My favourite thing about a hug, aside from the way it makes me feel, is that it’s a perfect model of simultaneous generosity and gratitude. When you give someone a hug, they’re giving you one too. You’re both giving, both receiving, and the love is flowing both ways. And that’s where happiness comes from.
From a physiological point of view, there’s no such thing as too much hugging. You should hug your kids and your spouse, partner, or significant other as often as possible. From a social normalcy point of view… well, too much hugging might be a thing for some people. If you happen to love a less cuddly person, don’t let it get weird. Keep the hugging restricted to the places and times they feel comfortable. And always ask strangers for permission before you hug!