Effects of Hugging Throughout the Body
What is it about hugging that makes you feel so good?
In early 2020, I chaired a conference in Chicago about the neuroscience of hugging, where neurologists, therapists, and psychologists looked at the effects of hugging throughout the body. One of the main points he made during his lecture was that hugging for twenty seconds puts your body and brain in balance. It calms anxiety, lifts depression, balances your immune system, and lowers high blood pressure. The eye-to-eye contact, touch, and often the bonus sweet words all add up to the feel-good effect of a happy hug. This is why a person who is having a down day often sees a friend and says, “I need a hug!”
Scientists have found that there are changes in brain pattern activity during touch. Touch reduces the stress hormone cortisol and releases oxytocin, known as the “feel-good” hormone, helping to inspire positive thinking and an optimistic outlook. It helps humans connect and promotes feel-good sensations that foster a sense of well-being. Physical touch also increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood and help your body relieve stress and anxiety. Additionally, physical touch is known to improve your immune system.
Hugging seems to create its well-being effect in the thalamus, the emotional hub of the brain, which then sends “peace be with you” text messages throughout the brain and the body, and is sometimes even partnered with goosebumps. Letting a hug last for twenty seconds, science shows, is the time it takes for a hug’s feel-good effects to click in.
To better a brain, hug someone today!
Health Coach Hayden Talks About Hugs
I was born with a high need for physical touch, along with the temperament that allowed this need to be known. Fortunately, I was born into a high-touch home, and my parents quickly learned that touch was the “medicine” that I needed for my sense of well-being. When left alone for too long without physical connection, I would become agitated, fussy, and often highly distressed.
While it is common to comfort babies and small children physically, the need for physical touch is often ignored in older children and adults. Touch is the most primitive of all senses, the first one to develop, and our need for it does not go away as we age.
Signs you may be suffering from touch hunger include:
- High-stress levels
- Aggressive behavior
- Body image issues
- Feelings of unworthiness or rejection
Ways to incorporate more physical touch into your life include:
- Increase the number of hugs you give and receive
- Intentionally increase the duration of hugs that already occur
- Walk hand in hand with a family member, close friend, or romantic partner
- Take a ballroom dance class
- Get regular professional massages or trade massages with a close friend
Try to give and get a few hugs every day. The longer your hugs last, the better both you and the person you’re hugging will feel. A prolonged, deep hug shows you really care.
Whether you’re experiencing “normal” mental and emotional burnout or wrestling with a diagnosed illness, The Healthy Brain Book can help you thrive. It explains:
- How what we think can change how well we think
- The role of inflammation in the brain, and how food and activity can reverse it
- What drugs enhance and suppress the brain’s ability to heal itself
- Actionable advice to improve your memory, promote learning, and prevent common brain ailments
- How to personalize the book’s tools for your unique brain
Find out more about Dr. Bill’s newest book, The Healthy Brain Book here.