Nothing in this world feels more soothing, relaxing or loving than a prolonged, gentle hug from a loved one. Cradling a baby, comforting a crying toddler, or just offering a heartfelt hug in times of trouble are all ways we can show love and concern without words. But hugging also has the power to bring about changes in other areas of our lives.
Hugging releases hormones known as ‘neurotransmitters’ into our brain from the pituitary and adrenal glands, including oxytocin, dopamine, melatonin and serotonin. The act also promotes the release of endorphins. All of these chemicals offer fantastic benefits to our health and well-being. Here are eight of the most significant.
1. Mood and Depression
Reduced levels of dopamine can cause persistent low mood, often progressing to clinical depression. Depressive episodes can have a devastating effect, causing lethargy, reduced appetite or binge comfort eating, impaired immune system function, disturbed sleep and even suicidal thoughts. Long-term depression can ruin lives and can also impact significantly on the lives of friends and family. Some underlying conditions (e.g. Parkinson’s disease) also cause depression. It’s believed that regular hugging helps to lift depression, partly because the body’s response to the hug compensates for lowered dopamine.
2. Pain Control
When we hug, the serotonin that’s released can also help patients manage pain. Many people are living with chronic conditions such as arthritis and battling constant, debilitating pain, but serotonin has been shown to help sufferers manage chronic pain more successfully. A hug can also help someone in pain from another cause, such as a headache, stomach ache, postoperative pain or the pain of an injury.
3. Weight Control
At first glance, it may be hard to believe that hugs can help you control your weight. But the chemicals released by the power of a hug play an important role in suppressing carbohydrate cravings and boosting self-control. They also promote a more efficient digestive process, allowing you to feel fuller for longer. So next time you feel like reaching for those double-choc cookies, try asking your partner for a hug instead!
There are few attitudes more likely to damage your progress in life than having low self-esteem. If you believe that you’re “no good” or are unable to cope with things efficiently and successfully, you’re unlikely to do well in your chosen career. Even the lowliest of jobs requires you to believe in yourself, and having poor self-esteem can prevent you from enjoying your work as well as putting you off applying for promotions or seeking a more fulfilling role. Low self-esteem can also affect your friendships and even your chance of a loving relationship – if you don’t love yourself, it’s hard to believe that others could. Dopamine released with hugging can boost your self-esteem.
5. Immune System
Without healthy levels of the hormones we get from hugging, our immune system can become impaired. This makes us more likely to pick up infections and viruses like colds and flu, causing us to feel unwell and making us more prone to tiredness and depression.
6. Close Relationships
Hugging helps us to develop closer relationships with others. Oxytocin, often described as the “feel-good” hormone, promotes feelings of love and closeness – it’s even released during childbirth and breast-feeding to enhance the relationship between mother and child. By enjoying prolonged hugs, we trigger those hormones that respond to touch and help us to feel less stressed and closer to the ones we love.
7. Better Sleep
Hugging also releases melatonin into our bodies, which helps us calm down and prepare for sleep. Our stress is reduced and we can relax more deeply, making it easier for us to fall asleep quickly instead of tossing and turning with all the problems of the day whirling through our minds. It also helps us sleep deeply, which is essential for us to function well the next day.
8. Improved Efficiency
The hug hormones also improve our general sense of well-being, which includes helping reduce issues such as poor motivation and procrastination. If we’ve had a good night’s sleep and we’ve had a hormone boost from a few lingering hugs, we’ll be much better equipped to face the difficulties and demands of the day ahead, and much more likely to tackle those troublesome tasks that we tend to put off because they seem too demanding.