Just one simple hug can boost someone’s confidence; cheer a depressed soul and can strengthen an emotional bond. How can hugs be so transformative? Have you ever thought about it? We hug others when we’re excited, happy, sad, or just looking for some comfort. Hugging, it seems, is universally comforting. It makes us feel protected. And it turns out that hugging is proven to make us healthier and happier.
Hugs help build bonds
Culturally speaking, hug is a non-verbal way of saying, “I care about you” or “I missed you” or “I’m happy to see you”. These gestures are positive and important for a relationship. As it shows that the person receiving the hug is respected and liked, which is a foundation for forming a strong bond. “Besides the release of oxytocin or the cuddle hormone, which is associated with wellness and happiness, the socially appropriate hug releases dopamine. Dopamine is the body's natural happiness chemical. That is why hugs make us feel happy, reduce stress, make us less afraid, and act as a source of support,” says Dr Shefali Batra.
Hugs also help in conflict resolution. “It was found that the people that hug more are less affected by conflicts hence it results in better relationships,” tells Dr Chinmay Kulkarni. While we are trying to maintain social distancing due to the pandemic, Dr Anjali Chhabria tells, “Our entire family went through Covid-19 and as soon as that got over, the first thing my daughter said was now at least I can hug freely.”
Hugging therapy is definitely a powerful way of healing. It is also heart healthy. Physical touch and hugging can combat feelings of loneliness that arise as people get older, therefore hugging is important for adults too. They say, when people hug for 20 seconds or more the feel-good hormone oxytocin is released which creates a stronger bond and connection between the huggers.
“I hug my parents everyday, especially my mom. And yes, it absolutely does make me feel calm. After a heavy day at work, you just come home and a warm hug calms the nerves,” says an entrepreneur Yash Parekh. Some studies suggest that hugs can improve immune system. “It was found those who felt emotionally supported had a better immune response compared to those who didn't feel that way,” confirms Dr Chinmay.
Hugging provides benefits to people, but is particularly important in child development. The effect of physical contact is maximally seen in children. The power of touch is the strongest in childhood. “This particular gesture is elementally rooted with childhood hug in which the mother would put the child to her chest. It’s probably very deep rooted, and the entire act of hugging takes us back to the childhood sense of comfort. That is why hugs are particularly important in childhood, and research has shown that children who receive that degree of kindness and care grow up to be more secure individuals with better self-esteem,” explains Dr Shefali
Lacks of hugs
Studies have shown touch deprivation in children have alarming negative consequences in their growth, especially when they do not receive adequate affective touch from their parents. It decreases their trust in primary caregivers thereby affecting their other and future interpersonal relations especially romantic-intimate relationships. “In extreme cases, they may find it uncomfortable to be around or in nurturing relationships. There may also be developmental delays while growing up or more expressed aggression in adulthood,” says psychologist Anisha Jain.
On asking a few people if they are shy around hugging, Yash says, “I’m not. I’m a hugger, I truly believe that a hug can tell you a lot about a person and their personality. Also hugging someone, even a friend is always a good way to greet. Handshakes are super formal, and hugs are intimate.” A lifestyle blogger Vrishali Saraogi has a little different take on it. She says, “I am not at all shy around anyone when it comes to hugs but I do have my comfort zone. I wouldn’t hug someone I don’t connect with even if they are my friend. You exchange a lot of your vibes and take a lot from the other while you hug, so it better be worth it.”
How often one should hug?
There is a saying by Virginia Satir, an often-quoted family therapist, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” To which Dr Anjali explains, “She is using these 22 hugs as a figure of speech to say that if you get plenty of hugs you feel wanted, good and it improves your self-esteem and hence you grow.” So, go on keep getting and giving hugs as to make this world a kinder and warmer place to live in. After all people who hug, are known to be happier, and more peaceful.