Did you know that a hug is good medicine? It can help reduce stress, enhance sleep, and help you feel better—perhaps because it can trigger the release of anandamide, an endogenous substance that resembles marijuana. Hugs can reduce cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and strengthen your immune system too.
Researcher Sheldon Cohen, PhD, studied the impact of hugs on helping to protect stressed people from becoming sick. Study participants were exposed to a common cold virus, sequestered, and then monitored for infection and symptoms of illness. The results, published in Psychological Science, revealed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts—with hugs being responsible for one-third of the protective effect. Among participants who did become infected, both greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs resulted in less severe illness symptoms, whether or not they experienced conflict.
Studies at the Touch Research Institute, University of Miami in Florida, showed that participants who were given a stressful task had lower heart rates and blood pressure if they’d been hugged. Your skin is your largest body organ and its pressure receptors send messages to your brain and heart—both relational organs—via the vagus nerve. Virginia Satir reportedly recommended four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth.
Appropriate hugs let others know you care without your saying a word. Plus, when you give one you often get one back. Think of it as a handshake from the heart.
-By Arlene R. Taylor