Body language is the first learned form of communication. Through eye contact and posture, a person can potentially know quite a lot of information about the person, all without having to say a word. More powerful that any of these, is the sense of touch. Touch goes beyond our sense of sight, our sense of hearing and our ability to speak. In recent decades the majority of the United States population has begun to move away from the physical world, specifically the world of physical contact. This shift towards materialistic obsession, much to the annoyance of previous generations, is beginning to impact social interactions. The quickly shrinking percentage of the population that continue to maintain healthy amounts of physical touch are usually in a relationship, where such displays of affection are expected and considered normal. This applies to those who are in an established relationship, and not to the singles population or any other person not in such a relationship.
But the question is, why? Why do some families receive daily hugs; while others go years without touching, despite living in the same home? How is this affecting the children raised in these homes? Specifically, how does the lack of regular hugs affect a person's well being?
In 2014, Carnegie Mellon University, in a study led by Professor Sheldon Cohen sought to do just that. The data showed people who shared strong emotional ties with their social network, including regular hugs, were less susceptible to illnesses, displayed a stronger immune system and a plethora of other health benefits. (Hugs)
This stronger immune system was a direct result of the physical touch. When we come into physical contact with someone, our body receives the stimulation through Pacinian corpuscles located in our skin. These corpuscles then send the signal of stimulation through the body's nervous network to Oxytocin receptors in the body. Oxytocin is commonly referred to as the, "love" or "cuddle" hormone. This hormone positively influences a person's immune system, can help decrease anxiety and depression, and lower blood pressure. (Mercola) When this hormone is released a person experiences a state of relaxation-as is commonly attributed to a firm hug or being held tightly by another person.
The movement away from physical touch in the United States could be directly related to the current rise of mental illnesses, with statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) now saying that "1 in 5 adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year". This can only lead one to wonder, how many of these cases could have been prevented, or treated with strong familial bonds? What if those people were hugged more?
These statistics are primarily geared towards the United States and the culture of the general population. Other countries around the world have vastly different social structures more focused around the sense of touch. However, the growing popularity of the United States, along with the obsession with the culture could potentially affect these societies around the world. I fear we are underestimating the United States' impact on other countries, including this issue of mental illnesses.
There is a potential for change, and the action of paying a hug forward could never be more important. If people began to go out of their way to positively encourage someone around them every day-including a hug when appropriate-years from now this could be the tipping point of the steady increase in mental illnesses.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-th...
Carnegie Mellon University: http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2014/dece...