There are generally two kinds of people in this world: huggers and non-huggers.
Upon meeting, huggers come in for a warm embrace whether they’ve known you for 20 years or 20 minutes, while non-huggers quickly shoot out their hand for a shake or high five before anyone gets too close to them. If you catch a hugger off guard and manage to get your arms around them, it kind of feels like you’re hugging a fence post.
No matter what category you fall into, I’m not judging. The decision of whether to engage in hugging, or any other kind of touching, is completely up to you. But this isn’t just about hugging. Some people go out of their way to avoid lots of human contact, and even those of us who are OK with it probably don’t realize how limited our physical contact with other humans actually is.
“How often do we actually make contact with someone else?” Annie Byrne asked over at Thought Catalog. “I can tell you it’s not as often as you think.
When you look around you, on the streets, tube or even in a coffee shop, you notice that we live in such a busy, crowded world, yet it’s so easy for many of us to go days, even weeks or months without touching or being touched by others.
We get huffy when someone’s standing too close for our liking on the underground, and we flinch when someone hands us our change and accidentally comes into contact with our skin.”
Rather than being something that we avoid, endure, or reserve solely for family members and children, touch is something every human NEEDS on a very primal level.
Studies have shown that loneliness, particularly with age, can also increase stress and have averse health effects. By hugging someone, we instantly feel closer to that person and decrease feelings of loneliness. “The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health,” University psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser told USA TODAY.
Keep reading to discover just a few of the scientific benefits of touch and why we should be more open to the simple act of consensual physical contact.
1. Hugging Puts Us in A Good Mood
The simple act of putting your arms around another person triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain. This chemical, linked to social bonding, gives us a “warm and fuzzy” feeling that generally leads to an improvement in mood. “Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding,” DePauw University psychologist Matt Hertenstein told NPR. “It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.” Avoiding hugs reduces your experience of these goodwill feelings, making it easier for feelings of isolation and distrust to take their place.
2. Hugs Reduce Stress
Do you feel overwhelmed by life? Are there a thousand responsibilities pulling you in different directions? We all have stressors in our lives, but research suggests that more frequent human contact might help us to better cope with them. The simple act of touching or being touched activates pressure receptors called Pacinian corpuscles. These receptors then send signals to the vagus nerve, an area of the brain that is responsible for lowering blood pressure.
3. Hugs Help Us To Be Brave
In today’s unstable and violent world, there’s plenty to be afraid of, both physically and existentially. Scientists say that pats on the back, holding hands, and yes, hugs, can help dissolve our fears no matter what the cause.
“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” lead researcher Sander Koole wrote in a 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science. “Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”
Are you a hugger or a non-hugger? Do these reasons make you feel more open to touching and being touched by others? Tell us about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: edwin_t