A simple touch or hug can have a powerful effect on our bodies. When you are little, having a cuddle from mum and dad does wonders. Having a hug with your partner makes you feel great, even patting a pet can calm you. But what can this touch or hug do to your body? You will be surprised.
Touch is one of the key sensations in the body. In our skin there are receptors called “Pacinian Corpuscles” which sense pressure. As these pressure sensors send information to the brain they activate the Vagus nerve. This nerve controls a lot of the organs in the body and can, among many other things, slow the heart rate and decrease blood pressure. (I described this a little more in the “OM” Chanting blog a few weeks ago).
In an experiment at the University of North Carolina, participants who didn't have any contact with their partners developed a higher blood pressure and a quickened heart rate of 10 beats per minute compared to the five beats per minute among those who got to hug their partners during the experiment.
Hugging decreases stress hormones
If you are stressed, try a hug. Hand holding or hugging can help reduce the levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol. High cortisol levels can lead to suppression of the immune system, inflammatory responses of the body etc.
Hugging releases the ‘Love Hormone’
Hugging increases the levels of the “love hormone” Oxytocin. Oxytocin is released from the Pituitary gland and has known health giving properties. Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana says "Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding". He continues to say "It (oxytocin) really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people”. The levels of Oxytocin go up with holding hands, hugging and also therapeutic massage.
Dr Mercola suggests that Oxytocin is the likely reason why pet owners heal more quickly from illness, why couples live longer than singles, and why support groups work for people with addictions and chronic diseases.
Hugging stimulates reward areas in the brain
Hertenstein says that there are areas in the brain in the orbital frontal cortex (just above your eyes) that are stimulated in response to touch. This is the same area that responds to sweet tastes and pleasing smells. Basically it is a reward stimuli.
The hugger gets the same responses as the hugee.
The benefits I have talked about, occur in both the person being hugged or touched and the person doing the touching or hugging. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine said "Studies have shown that a person giving a hug gets just as much benefit as a person being hugged”.
Caution: You need to be careful though
This does not mean you can just go around hugging random people. Neurophysiologist Jürgen Sandkühler, said: 'The positive effect only occurs, however, if the people trust each other”. Hugging a stranger won’t have the same effect. With unwanted hugs, even from someone we know, the hormones are not released and anxiety can rise. This can lead to a stress response and you will end up with opposite effects to those described above.
How many hugs do you need?
This is totally up to the individual, however, psychotherapist Virginia Satir has said:
- "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."
· http://www.npr.org Human connections start with a friendly touch.