When you see someone you have not been around in a long time, when someone is celebrating exciting news, or when someone is having a hard time, it is normal to give them a hug. It is a gesture that sends a specific message depending on the occasion. It can show people just how much you love them, how sorry you feel, or how much you care about them. Hugging is an important way for many to express how they are feeling to someone else. If you were to ask someone why they hug or why they like being hugged, they might tell you something along the lines of, “It feels right.” While hugging does tap into your emotions and even elicit an emotional response, there is more science to hugging than you might realize.
Hormones & Hugging
There are hormones released when you hug someone that can provide significant health benefits. Skin-to-skin contact can send signals to nerves in the area of the brain that is responsible for managing blood pressure. When you receive a hug, it can lower your blood pressure, helping you feel relaxed. That is also why doctors encourage skin-to-skin contact with babies. When babies are held, it can help them feel safe and calm.
Hugging and cuddling can also release dopamine which results in people “feeling good” or feeling a sense of reward. Dopamine is responsible for the “highs” people get after exercising, eating your favorite meal, or having sex. Even simply hugging someone in a non-sexual way can release dopamine in your brain and help you feel good.
Physical touch, including hugging, also releases a chemical called oxytocin or what some call “the love hormone.” When people connect physically with someone they love, this hormone is released and helps them feel good. It helps increase bonding, empathy, and positive thinking. Oxytocin can have positive impacts on physical health like fighting infections and boosting your immune system.
Emotions & Hugging
In general, hugging can have significant impacts on emotional health as well. The hormones involved can aid in this process as well. People who hug tend to feel a reduction in stress due to feeling loved and more secure. It also is a way people feel connected. Whether it leads to other forms of physical intimacy or not, a simple hug can increase bonding between people. Hugging can also decrease emotions associated with depression. It can help people fight a sense of fear, isolation, and loneliness. It also can provide a self-esteem boost which aids in fighting symptoms of depression as well.
The science reveals that hugging can provide a variety of benefits both physically and emotionally. While everyone has their own love languages, physical touch is still important. Even if physical touch is low on your love language list, hugging and other forms of physical intimacy can have a positive impact on a you and your relationships. You might not want hugs from someone you do not know well, but you still might appreciate that type of affection from people you are in a relationship with. At the end of the day, a good hug from someone you love and trust is going to brighten your mood and help you feel better.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.