In the immortal words of Buddy the Elf, “Does someone need a hug?”
As it turns out, we could all use a little more up-close-and-personal contact (as long as it’s from a person who we actually want it from). Studies surrounding the hormone oxytocin are starting to reveal its major role in stress response and how our bodies cope when we are hashtag-stressed.
Hugging (as well as other kinds of physical contact like holding hands or cuddling) releases oxytocin into our system, which encourages bonding and feelings of safety and comfort. It’s even been dubbed “the cuddle hormone” by scientists studying its complex role in our brains and body functions. Of course it’s a little more complicated than this, but at its most basic level, more hugs = more happy.
Oxytocin is also strongly associated with breastfeeding, and tends to have stronger reactions in women. It can even lower their blood pressure as well as levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine. One study stated that women who were in supportive relationships and hugged their partners frequently saw stronger benefits from oxytocin than those who did not.
Looking for even more reasons to hand out some hugs? The stress-reducing effects of feeling close to loved ones through physical contact can actually make your immune system stronger, keeping you from getting sick. Because of their oxytocin-inducing powers, hugs from loved ones can also reduce your blood pressure, which is always a good thing but especially so for those with heart problems. People with low self-esteem tend to have lots of anxiety, and hugging helps with that too and make them feel more grounded. Hugging might even be able to reduce the effects of chronic pain.
So next time you’re feeling a little worse for wear, stand on the sidewalk with a sign offering free hugs. KIDDING – just find a friend and spread the oxytocin!