I noticed something recently. Tony is a hugger. I’m sure he would NEVER classify himself as a hugger, toucher, or affectionate type of person. But, he definitely IS a hugger… at least he is with me.
It stands out recently, I think, because I haven’t been so affectionate. I’ve had a lot on my mind, which makes me feel distant. Stopping for a hug is the last thing that occurs to me. So, I really notice when he makes me stand still while he hugs me. I usually think he’s going in for a quick passing snuggle and then he pauses. He holds me a little longer than I might have held him. He leans in, he looks into my eyes, and then he really squeezes. He is the best hugger! I would totally advertise his hugging skills, except I know he doesn’t hug anyone in the world the way he hugs me.
Whether he knows the science behind it or not, it’s pretty smart that he is such a hugger. Hugging and physical affection have profoundly positive effects on us. It’s not just a nice thing to do once in a while. Science tells us that what we gain from a simple hug can impact our overall health and well-being. Here are seven new ways to think about and appreciate physical affection.
7 New Ways to Appreciate Physical Affection
1. A hug releases Oxytocin.
Oxytocin is pretty rad. It is a hormone released into our bloodstream and our brain during breastfeeding in women as well as during sex in both men and women to help us form bonds of attachment to our babies and our partners. But, it is not only released then. It is also released in a simple hug. Once this hormone breaks loose, it does incredible things like help relieve physical pain and make us feel genuine joy.
2. A hug can help lower blood pressure.
In opposition to Oxytocin is a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can be helpful in some situations, but prolonged exposure – which comes from elevated levels of stress and anxiety – are bad for your heart and overall health. A good hug can lower that crappy cortisol, helping to lower your blood pressure, relieve headaches, and even ease muscle tension.
3. Hugging is good for your skin.
The skin is the sensory organ for touch. It is the largest organ of the body with an area of eighteen square feet, give or take. There are hundreds of sensory neurons packed into each square inch of skin on your body, responsible for the way you interpret absolutely everything you come into contact with. This is why people who are incredibly sensitive can be so bothered by something as simple as the tag on a t-shirt.
A hug, however, is received by these sensory neurons in the impressions it makes, essentially changing the outward shape of our bodies. We are enveloped, our touch senses are heightened, our breath relaxes, our eyes may even close. Your body was made to enjoy a good hug.
4. A hug can diffuse a fight.
In fact, any form of positive and gentle physical interaction during a fight can greatly reduce tension. Start by reaching for your partner’s hand, or putting your hand on their leg. If you can pause the arguing long enough to actually embrace each other, the rest of your “discussion” will go much better.
5. Hugging can help reduce anxiety.
Did you know anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults? Even if you don’t suffer from ongoing anxiety, we have all found ourselves in anxious moments. Neuroscientists out of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Virginia recently found that the effect of simply holding hands with their partner during a stressful MRI exam greatly reduced anxiety and stress in the brain. This is also true outside of an MRI machine.
6. Hugs boost your immune system.
We know that stress is bad for our immune system. That stress can not only cause illness but also prolong it. So, scientists set out to discover if hugs, which have shown to reduce stress, can actually benefit our immune system. It turns out they can! Dr. Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University, one of the study’s researchers said, “The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy… Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.”
7. Hugging increases trust.
This comes back to that beautiful hormone called Oxytocin. Hugging for 20 seconds causes this hormone to be released in both partners, which can increase feelings of safety, security, and trust. It may be a chicken-egg situation… you might not hug someone you don’t already trust. However, hugging even an acquaintance, which women are more likely to do, increases the likelihood that a trusting and warm friendship will emerge. We know that trust is an essential factor in building a strong marriage. More hugs result in more trust. More trust makes marriage better.
Some of us grew up in homes that were more affectionate than others, I get that. Generally, my husband’s Swedish ancestors are not known for their warm embraces, while my Mexican upbringing means we hardly took a breath without hugging and kissing each other in between. Wherever we came from, we can all benefit from more and better physical affection. Let’s get in the habit of increasing the frequency and length of those squeezes and #staymarried.
The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.
Special thanks to Amy Walton Photography for providing the beautiful photograph of this wonderful couple Steve and Leilani for this post. Image copyright belongs to her. Her Instagram Feed is one of my favorites, especially for her Tuesday nights with the Union Gospel Mission. Such encouraging work she is a part of! You should definitely follow this talented bright light in my life.
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Interested in more posts like this? You might like…
♥ Don’t You Trust Me? – The 5 Characteristics of Trust
♥ The Gift of Sex
♥ Holding Hands: A Simple Act with Profound Impact
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