The Power of Hugs

Wednesday February 19, 2020

I heard something very sad the other day. Sad but not uncommon.

A friend of my daughter was feeling low. "Go home and give your parents a hug," my daughter recommended. "It always makes me feel better."

There was a long pause. Finally, "That's just not possible."

In his family, there is no physical affection. At some point, his parents stopped hugging him, holding him, cuddling him. He doesn't know when it was, but he envies my daughter the hugs she gets from us.

Please believe me when I say that, as a family, we absolutely have NOT got everything right; we are not the perfect family. I think, however, we have got the hugs right.

I get my girls up with a hug first thing in the morning, they (mostly) get a hug as they leave the house to go to school; they get a hug when they come home from school. My husband gives hugs too. They frequently ask for hugs.

I know many people reading this have nobody to whom they are emotionally close enough to hug. Hugging is so beneficial however, it is worth seeing if you can develop friendships to the hugging point, it will convey many health benefits.

Let's start with the mental and emotional benefits. Being hugged feels nice; it makes us feel loved and cared for. If you look at the science behind it – the firm pressure of a hug increases serotonin and dopamine – the feel-good hormones. It also triggers the release of oxytocin, which has sometimes been called the "bonding hormone" because it promotes attachment in relationships.

A quick and flimsy hug is no good, though; it could be worse than nothing. A hug should be firm, so that the necessary pressure receptors under the skin are stimulated, leading to the release of those beneficial hormones.

It also needs to last long enough. Sometimes a "social" hug is only two seconds. It takes at least ten to relax into the hug and to start to feel the benefits. One of my lovely Moodscope buddies, when giving a hug, warns, "Let me give you a warning: I don't let go. I keep hugging until you draw away."

Hugs also need to come with a few provisos. Hugs should always be offered, never be inflicted on the unwilling, and permission should usually be asked.

If your relationship with the huggee is not sexual, then care must be taken; be aware of where your hands end up.

And, if a hug is not appropriate, consider the power of a firm touch on the shoulder or upper arm. I remember, in my last depression, after the church service, sitting alone drinking tea, because I couldn't cope with being with anyone. A member of the congregation came over and just put their hand on my shoulder. That meant so much.

Touch is important. It even increases our resistance to disease.

So, if you have someone to hug, hug them today. If you don't, I hope you feel you know me well enough from these blogs to accept at least a virtual hug from me.

A Moodscope member.

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