Science Says Hugging Loved Ones Can Make You Healthier and Happier
4 science-backed reasons why giving (and receiving) more hugs could make you a healthier, happier person.
Hugs are a great way to show someone you care in times of grief and celebration. Turns out, hugs aren't just a sweet sign of affection—they also have some serious health benefits. Hugs not only physically draw us closer to people, but they can help us develop stronger emotional attachments. They also offer other social, physical and psychological benefits. Find out why we love hugs so much and then go give someone you love a big squeeze—ya know, for your health.
1. Hugs Help Reduce Stress
The comfort of a hug can last much longer than the hug itself. A 2018 study out of Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Psychology found we can continue to reap the stress-reducing benefits of hugs up to 24 hours later.
The researchers discovered hugs buffer against feelings of stress by reducing cortisol levels and the activation of our brain's regions associated with emotional and behavioral threats. Their research showed hugs could even help you reduce the stress of a conflict before it starts.
2. Hugs Could Protect Against Illness
This may seem contradictory, but a different study out of Carnegie Mellon University also discovered engaging in more hugs could keep you from getting sick. More than 406 individuals recorded how many hugs they received in a day for two weeks and were then exposed to a virus that causes the common cold, where they were quarantined and monitored for signs of illness. The more hugs and perceived support a participant recorded, the less severe signs of infection they experienced.
The researchers say hugs could buffer the effects of stress on physical health and reduce the effects of stress on early biomarkers indicative of disease. Not only were more hugs associated with less infection, but fewer illness-related symptoms (think: a stuffy nose) overall. One caveat: You just might want to avoid hugging your family member with the flu (and wash your hands).
3. Hugs Help Us Have Deeper Relationships
Oxytocin is our body's "love hormone," and it is released in greatest amounts when we make physical contact with another person. The hormone is also released when petting your furry friend. Oxytocin helps us create stronger bonds with others and plays an essential role in pre- and postnatal health. Besides helping to foster that special mother-child bond, oxytocin helps us develop trust in our relationships—and arousal in our romantic ones.
4. Hugs Can Ease Social and Emotional Anxiety
Whether you get nervous before attending events or live with a social anxiety disorder, hugs can help tamper the intensity of those feelings. Oxytocin not only helps us develop healthier relationships, but it can also eliminate fear and anxiety surrounding social occasions. Research from the University of Miami found administration of this hormone has been proven effective in treating those living with autism, schizophrenia and anorexia, among other disorders.
Related: 7 Foods for Stress Relief