The Scientific Reason You Need To Hug Someone Today

The Scientific Reason You Need To Hug Someone Today

Eat right, exercise and...hug?
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Sure, hugs make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it turns out they can also reduce stress, lower blood pressure and decrease our risk of getting sick. Not only does a tight squeeze make us feel good, but it can also have significant health benefits!

With cold and flu season upon us, most people have started to prepare: getting flu shots and consuming enough vitamin C can work wonders, but what about getting in our daily dose of hugs? In a 2014 study by Carnegie Mellon University, people who were hugged more frequently in the days leading up to the study were significantly less likely to catch a cold after having been exposed to the virus.

Why does this happen, though? Well turns out it's mostly due to our little friend, oxytocin. Oxytocin does amazing things for our bodies. It is the same chemical released during childbirth and breastfeeding that bonds mothers with their children. Pressure receptors in our skin respond to the sensation of a hug and activate the vagus nerve. This leads to a release of oxytocin in our bodies and in turn has an array of health benefits. However, this same pathway doesn't occur with flimsy hugs. (You know, the ones you give to your parent's friends you just met or your distant relatives you haven't seen in 10 years.) Those flimsy air hugs won't provide you with nearly the same number of health benefits as a big bear hug will!

If you're hurt, you're in luck! In addition to increased immune functioning, high oxytocin levels also lead to faster healing of wounds and less pain. Hugging releases endorphins, which block the pain pathways to the brain, working as a natural pain killer.

Feeling stressed? Stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased heart rates. Luckily, there's a pretty quick fix as oxytocin also helps lead to lower blood pressure and heart rates! According to a study at the University of North Carolina, women who received more hugs during the study had higher oxytocin levels, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rates. Oxytocin also leads to a reduction in cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in the body.

Not only does oxytocin make us healthier, but it makes us feel pretty dang good, too. Oxytocin triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin (pleasure hormones) in the body, making us feel happy and reducing anxiety and depression. A 2010 study found that animals treated with an oxytocin inhibitor produced more signs of depressive behavior than those who were not.

It's also never too early to start hugging. According to Huffington Post, there may be a link between how frequently babies are hugged and how they manage stress as adults.

While it may seem like hugs are a cure-all treatment, there is a stipulation and it may come as a blow to the "Free Hugs" campaign. According to neurophysiologist Jürgen Sandkühler, what is most important to consider when giving and receiving hugs is whether or not you trust the other person. If the hug comes from a stranger, or is unwanted by either party, oxytocin is not released. In fact, another hormone, cortisol, is released instead, causing an increase in stress due to our perceived violation of distance-keeping behaviors.

All in all, as long as the hug is tight and comes from someone we care about, oxytocin will keep doing it's job. In addition to oxytocin creating mini-miracles in our bodies, psychologically, hugging is extremely beneficial. It makes us feel safe, loved and comfortable while reducing our anxiety and giving us confidence. Hugging is a way of showing our social support for our loved ones, which has benefits of it's own as well. In short, hugs are really freakin' cool, so make sure to take care of yourself this season and get on hugging!

Cover Image Credit: Google

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black and white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble; and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time, until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling; whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die," or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you, you are not alone.

If you're thinking about hurting yourself please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help it out there and you are not alone.


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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To The Girl Who Hasn't Yet Found Herself, Keep Looking

You will eventually find her in all the right places, I promise.

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They say you are supposed to go through your awkward transition phase during middle school, but you still feel like you haven't quite figured it out. They say you are supposed to join a club in order to "find yourself", but then you end up sitting in the back watching everyone laugh and catch up. You feel out of place--like you're existing somewhere you just don't belong. Let me be the voice telling you that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now. Every decision you've ever made has led you to this place. This is, of course, much harder to grasp than to just say. Really though, you're doing just fine!

Finding out the things you don't like to do are just important as discovering your passions when it comes to finding your true self. Don't be afraid to join that club, talk to the girl next to you in class, and explore your interests. You might hate it. You might want to run away, but at least you're learning about yourself and where your comfort zone lies. Finding yourself is a life long process, so don't expect an Aha! moment where you have finally hit your destination. Think of it more as a sense of confidence of comfortability in who you are and what you stand for.

Stepping away from friends and family for some time may also lead you to who you are. Often, we grow up and mature only to have the same beliefs, morals, and political opinions as our parents. It's not our fault and we aren't childish, we just trust our parent's judgment and see their conscience as nothing but truth. Part of gaining independence is questioning your own biased beliefs and reevaluating them so they reflect your character better. Same goes with friends. Try to spend a Friday night in with yourself. See what you do. Do you watch a movie? Do you catch up on homework? Do you paint your nails? What is it that makes you feel happy when nobody else is around? By considering the answer to this question, you're one step closer to figuring this whole life thing out.

You may also want to try stepping away from your phone. Your social media (this shouldn't come as a surprise) is giving you the false idea that everyone around you knows exactly what they're doing and enjoys doing it all. Not true. So not true actually, everyone else is struggling to find out just who they are. You and your phone need some distance.

Finding yourself doesn't just happen. You need to explore the world around you and you'll eventually find out where your place is. Be patient with the process and know the right steps will surface when you're ready to take them. Be kind to yourself and have the bravery to discover the girl inside you (I hear she's really cool).

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