I hope I’ve gotten your attention with that headline, folks–it’s time to hug it out!
Hugs are a good thing all on their own, but now it appears that they prompt your body to release oxytocin, also known as the “love” hormone. This, in turn, can benefit your heart, lower stress levels and even more; those simple bits of human contact pack quite a powerful punch.
There are several different studies showing the benefits that hugs can bring. One study, published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, found that when women had a brief amount of warm contact with their partner, their blood pressure levels dropped right afterward (https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/pages/default.aspx).
Another study discovered that just a 20-second hug, when followed by about 10 minutes of holding hands, lessens the harmful impact stress can have on your body, reducing heart rate and blood pressure (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15206831/). This was not super shocking; we already knew that a simple hug can lower the amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body.
However, there could be more to these findings, and that’s the exciting part. Your skin has a bunch of small pressure centers, which are known as Pacinian corpuscles, that sense touch and connect with the brain via the vagus nerve. This large nerve goes throughout your body and connects to various organs, including your heart. It’s also connected to your oxytocin receptors, so one popular theory is that the vagus nerve stimulation from touch is what triggers the release of the oxytocin hormone.
Yet another study, as reported by Blue Cross Blue Shield, found that just one 10-second hug (https://connect.bcbsmt.com/health-and-wellness/b/weblog/posts/a-hug-only-takes-10-seconds-but-the-benefits-last-forever) releases that love hormone, helps you feel happier, can help your heart, and eases anxiety. In addition, hugs release other hormones that can boost your mood, including dopamine and serotonin.
You probably can’t go around hugging strangers to reap the benefits–although some people do, so if you’re feeling brave, go for it–but you can get more hugs in your life by offering them more often to your family and friends. Generally, the best way to receive hugs is to give more of them; many people enjoy hugs but might be shy about giving them to people without knowing how comfortable they are with them. If you are giving them out more often, you’re signaling that you’re more than happy to receive them in return!