From the time you were born until the day you die, touching is an important part of your emotional and physical health.
Infants deprived of touching grow up with developmental and cognitive delays, attachment disorders and higher risk of serious infections. On the other hand, premature infants who are held skin-to-skin exhibit better cognitive skills are more resilient to stress and have more organized sleep patterns even 10 years later.
These early touch-based interventions demonstrate the need for touching in psychological regulation. The benefits of touching don’t diminish with age.
The late Virginia Satir, psychotherapist and generally acknowledged as a pioneer in family therapy, spoke about the importance of touching and hugs as it relates to a person’s emotional health, saying “We need [four] hugs a day for survival. We need [eight] hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
This may represent the minimum and optimum thresholds to generate sufficient oxytocin, a hormone released by your pituitary gland in response to physical touch. The simple act of hugging may not only increase your bond with others, but may also boost your physical and emotional health.
The simple act of hugging may not only increase your bond with others, but may also boost your physical and emotional health.
The importance of touching
In the absence of touching, children become almost unrecognizable, developing personality disorders and other conditions that make it difficult for them to live in society. Historical reports of children who grew up “feral,” or in the wild without the benefit of touching show they often have difficulty assimilating into a group.
Touching is the primary language to communicate compassion and is fundamental to communication, bonding and health. It supports the immune system, reduces stress, encourages sleep and has no side effects. It doesn’t drain your batteries, but recharges you instead.
Western cultures often experience a deficiency in touching. Before he passed on in 1974, psychologist Sidney Jourard completed a study in which he measured touching between friends in the U.S., England, France and Puerto Rico. In England, people didn’t touch at all. In the U.S, friends touched up to two times an hour.
This is in deep contrast to friends in France who touched up to 110 times in an hour or in Puerto Rico where they touched up to 180 times in an hour.
Health benefits of Oxytocin
Humans are wired so that hugs make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Whether it’s a mother-child embrace, a hug from a friend or a squeeze from your significant other, research suggests these touches deliver some real emotional and physical health benefits.
The basis for several of the benefits psychologists associate with hugging is the result of release of oxytocin. Also called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone,” it’s released from your pituitary gland, triggering a flood of emotions depending upon the environment in which you associate the hormone.
In other words, in cases where the hormone was released during situations that were not pleasant, such as during poor relationships, it can make you less accepting of people. The hormone was first recognized for the role it played in bonding of mother and child during pregnancy and nursing.
The bonding experience of oxytocin is not limited to infancy but also translates into adulthood, triggering feelings of trust and support between people who hug.
It promotes feelings of contentment and may even promote monogamous behavior, especially in men who are already bonded to a woman.
The release of oxytocin with hugging triggers feelings of compassion for the other person, a necessary form of connection and support during times of psychological stress or grief. Feelings of intimacy and closeness give you an optimistic sense of where you fit socially and a positive sense of wellbeing.
Hugging reduces stress
The release of oxytocin reduces your levels of stress hormone or cortisol. This reduction in stress, combined with a sense of emotional support, appears to support your immune system and makes you less susceptible to the common cold.
Research has found your perceived social support and the number of hugs you give and get could predict your susceptibility to developing a cold, finding that hugs could explain 32 percent of the beneficial effect. Even those who got a cold had less severe symptoms when they had more frequent hugs.
The pressure of a hug may stimulate your thymus gland, responsible for the regulation and balance of your white blood cells, another way in which hugging may support your immune system.
This reduction in cortisol and perceived stress may also help you stay calm during a stressful event such during a presentation at work or medical test. The reduction in stress also lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, which may reduce your potential risk for heart disease.
The reduction of stress may also have a direct response on the prevention of other diseases. The Touch Research Institute at the University Of Miami School Of Medicine has carried out multiple studies on the significance of touching and found a reduction in pain, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes and improved immune system in people with cancer.
Daily hugs may keep depression at bay
A hug is also one of the easiest ways to demonstrate appreciation and acknowledges the person you are hugging as important to you. Nearly 55 percent of all communication is nonverbal, so a single gesture of hugging is an excellent method of communicating love and care.
Hugs stimulate your brain to release several other chemicals that affect your mood and emotions. The first, dopamine, is a hormone that evokes pleasure in the brain. Endorphins and serotonin are also released, helping to reduce pain and feelings of sadness.
According to Debra Castaldo, Ph.D., relationship expert and couples and family therapist “We also know that hugging our loved ones promotes healthy emotional attachment and intimacy, which is the foundation of a happy, healthy long-term relationship.”
Source: The Sun