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The Health Benefits of Hugs


How are you with personal space? If you’re someone who loves hugs, you may be doing your personal health a big favor by letting people in!

Research suggests that hugging has a large number of potential health benefits. Yup, simply embracing another person may contribute to healthy blood pressure levels already within the normal range, relief from feelings of stress, support for a healthy immune system, a healthy mood and behavior, and feelings of security and overall wellbeing.

Why Are Hugs So Special?

The reason that hugs make us feel so good is because of the hormone oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” and the “bonding hormone.” This hormone is made by the hypothalamus gland and is important because it releases during physical contact and results in “positive” feeling. Not only that, but it is also essential for helping the uterus to contract during childbirth, for the release of milk during lactation, and for paternal bonding between parents and newborn.

Furthermore, oxytocin goes beyond just hugging. Kissing and sexual intimacy also rely on oxytocin, as do empathy and generosity, and it is associated with creating feelings of trust between people.

Part of how the body responds to hugging and why it releases oxytocin is that physical contact stimulates pressure receptors found under the skin. This partly explains why hugging a pillow, stuffed animal, or using a weighted blanket is often found to be equally effective as hugging even without another living thing to hold onto.

The Best Way To Hug

There are many types of hugs. When you do it, where, for how long, and with whom will be receiving the hug matters. As the person doing the hugging, it’s important that the hug is appropriate; an intimate hug between life partners may not be right for a coworker. Once you figure all of that out, it’s time to learn the different types of hugs.

If you’re looking at the number of hugs you give or receive to enjoy the many potential health benefits, it’ll help to know the following types of hugs get the most from your experience!

  • Hello – The gold standard of hugs; it’s non-intimate and short.
  • Me-hug – Wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze tightly.
  • Hand-hug – Simply shake hands when in doubt of the appropriateness of hugging.
  • Bear – A full body hug that often involves lifting and squeezing the other person; best shared between competing family members and good friends.
  • Cuddle – An embrace between family members or partners that sometimes proceeds bedtime or while watching a movie on the couch.
  • Comforter – People in difficult situations will benefit the most from this one; typically involves resting a head on the shoulder or against the chest.
  • Pound – The “guy” hug that emphasizes strength, intensity, and loudness.
  • A-frame – An “awkward” hug often seen at school dances that involve standing apart and leaning forward at the waist to meet in the middle, like the peak of the letter “A.”
  • Side-to-side – Stand next to each other and put one arm around the other.
  • Cheek-to-cheek – Put your check to the other person’s cheek; no arms required.
  • Reverse – An often intimate hug between partners that sees one person hug the other around the waist from behind.

The science behind how many hugs you should give or receive and for how long they should last is a bit up in the air. In a study between romantic partners, 20 second hugs broken up between 10 minute intervals resulted in lower resting blood pressure, suggesting a “lower reactivity to stressful life events and may partially mediate the benefit of marital support.”

When Not To Hug

If you’re not into hugs, nothing in this article will change your mind. As always, respect a person’s space and ask for permission before going in for a hug. Wrapping your arms around someone without invitation can be jarring or mistaken for something else. And if you do ask and they seem hesitant or outright says “no,” don’t take it to heart. It’s not for everyone.

Also be wary about hugging pets. Dogs, for example, greet each other in many ways, but hugging isn’t one of them. In fact, within packs, the act of climbing over another dog may be interpreted as asserting control or making an attempt to elevate social status over another dog. Some dogs may shrug a hug off or will even enjoy it, but others may not.

Just make sure to pay attention to the dog’s body language – leaning away, stiffening, licking of the lips or nose, and a closed mouth are common signs that the dog is not interested. Having any part of your neck or face near a dog’s mouth when they are anxious or unsure about a situation can be dangerous, so use caution if you do try and teach your dog that hugging is okay.

Find Someone To Hug

Now that you know why hugging is so much more than just embracing and there are potential health benefits, find someone you care about, wrap your arms around them and hold on tight.

Hugging is a simple way to show someone that you care and can be a good way to bond and strengthen your existing relationship. Just remember to be mindful of who you are hugging, and even if you don’t have someone to hug, you can also give yourself a hug any time during the day!

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