Did you know? Researchers are finding that hugs are powerful tools for mental health!
We all know that a hug can help us during a difficult moment. However, did you know that making hugs a regular part of your day can drastically improve your health and happiness?
Okay. Okay. So, you're not a hugger. That's ok. In exchange for a significant payoff, are you willing to try something that might make you a little uncomfortable? You might want to reconsider the powerful effect hugs have on your health.
A study conducted by Dr. Kane as part of her doctoral research examined how hugs affect depression and anxiety among university students. The participants were asked to get 8 hugs a day, each lasting 8 seconds. Now, we know what you're thinking. 8 hugs for 8 seconds! Do you know how long 8 seconds is?!?
8 seconds seems long because we're not used to it. The duration of 8 seconds is relatively short. Consider how much time you spend on other tasks throughout the day—taking a sip of water, responding to a text message, scrolling through social media, or eating a snack.
At the beginning of the study, prior to beginning the hugs, the students measured their anxiety and depression levels, and at the end of two weeks, they measured again to assess the impact of the hugs. The study found that their levels of depression and anxiety had been lowered.
Dr. Kane's research examines how hugs impact our mental health, but hugs are being studied by major mental health institutions and other researchers, too. So, what else are researchers finding?
Let's look at 5 ways hugs boost mental and physical health:
Hugs lower stress throughout the day.
Have you ever felt on edge after drinking too much coffee, possibly too late in the day? Of course! We all know that jittery feeling. Hugs produce the exact opposite feeling. When we hug another person, our brain releases a bonding chemical called oxytocin. This chemical makes us feel safe and stable. When something stressful does arise, we don't get as triggered by it or go into a fight or flight response because we know we're not in danger.
In one study, we read that we're more likely to receive hugs on weekends than on weekdays. Why is this? Most people spend a great deal of time at work during the weekdays, where hugs may not be considered professional. Maybe this is the reason we all love the weekends so much! We feel better. We typically get more hugs!
Hugs boost our immunity
When we're stressed, our immune system works extra hard and fatigues. As a result, we become more susceptible to illness. One study suggested that huggers were less likely to get sick. And those with a greater support system who gotsick had less severe symptoms than those with little or no support system.
Hugs could lower heart rates and blood pressure
In a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, 59 women provided some interesting results. Each session ended with a 20-second hug after a series of questions and general chatter about their partner. During stressful sections of testing, women who received hugs from their partners had lower blood pressure and heart rates. They believe their better heart health is caused by oxytocin (which we discussed earlier).
Hugs lower depression and anxiety
If you've ever had a bad day, you know there's nothing like a warm hug to comfort you. The staff of a retirement home in New York implemented a program called "Embraceable You" to encourage more contact between the older residents and staff members. In the end, residents who received three or more hugs per day reported feeling less depressed, having more energy, being able to concentrate easier, and sleeping better.
I bet you could guess whether people received more or fewer hugs during the pandemic, right? And how has this has impacted us?
In the days before the pandemic, people hugged an average of 6.29 times a day. During the pandemic, this number significantly decreased to 2.64 times per day. During the pandemic, people could still hug the people they lived with within the same household. However, during the pandemic, they may not have had the chance to hug other friends or family members they normally see at social gatherings like parties.
Scientists have found that touch can reduce anxiety in people with low self-esteem. Touch can also keep people from isolating themselves from others.
It has been shown that a lack of affectionate touch may negatively impact mental health. Thus, hugs may have been a boost for maintaining a positive mood in tough times by reducing negative thoughts and feelings.
Hugs can mitigate pain.
In one study, fibromyalgia patients had six therapeutic touch treatments. Each treatment involved light skin touching. Participants reported an increase in quality of life and reduced pain. Hugs help release endorphins, too, which also help reduce pain symptoms.
Packheiser J, Sommer L, Wüllner M, Malek IM, Reichart JS, Katona L, Luhmann M, Ocklenburg S. A (2023). Comparison of Hugging Frequency and Its Association with Momentary Mood Before and During COVID-19 Using Ecological Momentary Assessment. Health Commun, 1-9, epub ahead of print.