Giving someone a squeeze, whether it’s a rare catch-up or someone you live with and see every day, can make you feel instantly better.
Not just because it’s a friendly greeting, but because they are good for your health.
Hugs can benefit us mentally, physically and spiritually, with the power of changing brain chemistry to impact our mood.
You may’ve heard of a little hormone called oxytocin, which plays a huge role in social bonding and is notably released after childbirth and during sex in response to labour and love respectively.
Turns out, the cheeky feel-good chemical messenger is also released during hugs.
It’s all thanks to our sense of touch, which is said to be the first sense we develop from a very, very young age – 14 weeks gestational age to be precise, while still in the womb.
This sense of touch between mother and child is so soothing that it can lower heart rate and promote the growth of brain cell connections.
It seems this somewhat magical reaction to touch remains into adulthood, and when someone hugs us, the same things happens with a flood of hormones being released to destress us.
We say ‘magical’ because it sounds beautiful, but what is actually happening is that the stimulation of touch on our skin sends signals (via the spinal cord) to the brain’s emotion processing networks, prompting the release of endorphins such as oxytocin which trigger a positive feeling.
This phenomenal activity taking place away from the naked eye is said to significantly impact mental health by boosting mood and in turn reducing anxiety and depression.
Over time, this drastically improves wellbeing as the constant flow of endorphins are said to be like nature’s anti-depressants that perpetually reduce pain and enhance pleasure.
In addition to these upbeat vibes, hugs are known to improve sleep by lowering levels of cortisol – sometimes known as our ‘stress hormone’.
Cortisol plays a major role in our sleep-wake cycle – such as stimulating wakefulness in the morning and continuing to support alertness throughout the day – with high levels potentially playing havoc on this pattern and inducing issues like insomnia or nightmares.
With hugs having the prowess to control cortisol, the knock-on effect is sleeping like a log.
In what sounds like miracle work, hugs can also reportedly help us fight infection, proving that natural healing does have a place in the world of medicine.
It is believed that through the regulation of our hormones (such as oxytocin and cortisol), the symphony of them playing in the background of our lives affects our immune response.
Consequently, with a healthier and stronger immune response, our body is better equipped to fight infection and can even protect us against the common cold.
If you’re not a hugger, don’t fret. It’s believed the same neurochemical trigger response happens when stroking a pet, adorably for both owner and animal.