These 3 Advantages of Hugs, Pats, or Intimacy May Surprise You
Have you ever wondered why holding hands, a hug, or cuddles can feel so good? There are a variety of benefits to human touch, from social bonding to boosting the immune system. Below, we’ll be taking a look at why we enjoy human contact and how it is part of a healthy life.
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Why Is Touch Important?
Physical contact is a basic human need with emotional, mental, and physical benefits. From the moment of birth, babies need to cling, suckle, and rest on caregivers. This practice forms the bonds at the heart of our familial social structure and is a key tool of survival.
Even as we age, touch remains a critical component of our social and emotional growth. One study found that students are three times as likely to speak up in class after their teacher pats them in a friendly manner.
It's not only humans that need touch. Primates often pick at each other's fur throughout the day. It has been observed that the gelada baboon grooms for about 17 percent of its waking hours. Among the various reasons why primates touch each other is the need to ease tensions in social settings.
The release of the hormone oxytocin is another benefit of physical touch. oxytocin helps humans form emotional connection to one another and creates sensations that foster a sense of well-being and happiness. Even if we aren't bonding with babies, adults can still benefit from the various rewards of an oxytocin release with friends, partners, or even animals.
Read: How to Deal With Anxiety
3 Positive Health Manifestations from Touch
Why is human touch so powerful? The benefits of physical touch, and the biological stimulation that comes with it, go beyond social bonding and can manifest positively in your mental and physical health.
Here are some major ways hugs and hand holding can increase your happiness and longevity.
Inspire positive thinking and expand trust
Known as the "feel good" hormone, oxytocin helps inspire positive thinking and an optimistic outlook on the world. Oxytocin also generates feelings of compassion during interactions. This can contribute to an expansion of trust among individuals during social situations.
Reduce social anxiety and stress
Physical touch increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood and relieve stress and anxiety. Dopamine is also known to regulate the pleasure center in your brain that can offset feelings of anxiety.
One study on breast cancer patients found that massage therapy in the form of stroking, stretching, and squeezing relaxed participants and increased dopamine and serotonin levels.
From the study, “The immediate massage therapy effects included reduced anxiety, depressed mood, and anger. The longer term massage effects included reduced depression and hostility and increased urinary dopamine, serotonin values, NK cell number, and lymphocytes.”
Boost immune system and lower blood pressure
Physical touch is known to improve the function of your immune system as well as reduce diseases such as those associated with the heart and blood. One study on women found that receiving more hugs from their partners led to lower heart rates and blood pressure.
Read: Signs of Depression
Ways to Get Your Physical Touch Boost
You don't have to get hugs and cuddles exclusively from a significant other. Hugs from your family, friends, or pets can feel satisfying and invoke the release of oxytocin. It also important to be aware of how much physical contact another person is comfortable with.
Physical contact is a key component to emotional, mental, and physical well-being. However, sometimes we need more than a hug. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, you may benefit from online therapy.
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pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Accessed on December 19, 2020 at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15740822/
Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Breast cancer patients have improved immune and neuroendocrine functions following massage therapy. Accessed on December 19, 2020 at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399903005002
Social Psychology of Education 7. Nonverbal encouragement of participation in a course: the effect of touching. Accessed on December 19, 2020 at http://www.communicationcache.com/uploads/1/0/8/8/10887248/effect_of_touch_on_encouragement_in_course_-_the_effect_of_touching_-_gueguen_2004.pdf