Hug Day: Here are the health benefits of hugging

Hugs have many psychological and physical health benefits from the improvement of mood to the reduction of anxiety. Photo: iStock/SDI Productions

A gentle act of love that’s much more than a physical gesture – for many, that’s what a hug means. Be it a physical hug or an emoji hug commonly shared on the digital platform, the act conveys warmth, reassurance and strong bonds between those who share it. As the saying goes, ‘a hug is the shortest distance between friends’ and it often speaks a lot more than words. On the World Hug Day, let's understand a few of the health benefits of this simple act of love.

A good stress buster
The love hormone oxytocin, which helps you feel a sense of well-being, is released when you receive or give a good hug. It also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, relaxes your muscles, and offers you a sense of safety and mindfulness. When a hug is shared between consenting individuals, it is an engaging, positive, physical interaction. This would distract the stress in their minds and let them focus on the positive aspects of life. 

Releases endorphins to improve mood
Endorphins are chemicals that transmit signals within your nervous system and brain. They are also natural elevators of mood. Our skin has a network of touch receptors, and when we hug, they are activated. A quality touch, like a hug, can stimulate the production of endorphin and make you feel happy. 

Relieves pains
Have you heard of the gate control theory? The theory, proposed by Canadian psychologist Ronald Melzack and British physician Patrick Wall in 1965, had a significant impact on our understanding of pain perception and management of pain. According to this theory, our brain prioritises certain sensations over others. When our body receives pleasant signals of touch like hugs, our brain can close the gate to certain signals of pain, relax tense muscles and alleviate tension and pain. 

Reduces anxiety
According to experts, physical expressions like hugs can activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the "rest and digest" system. It counteracts the "fight or flight" response in our brains. This also decreases our heart rate, activates pressure receptors on the skin, and develops a sense of mindfulness. This can distract us from anxious thoughts and focus on positive aspects of life. 

Not everyone’s cup of tea
Be aware that the effectiveness of embraces or cuddles in busting stress isn’t the same with everyone. While some people appreciate physical expressions like hugs, a few others might not, for a variety of individual and cultural factors. Therefore, offer a hug only with the receiver’s consent.

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