Brent out-of-hours
Brent out-of-hours

Go on, give someone a hug – it’s very good for you!

January 19 2017

January 21 is National Hug Day – but did you know there’s more to a hug than meets the eye?

Getting and giving hugs make us feel good for a reason, yes a loving embrace warms the heart, but it's actually more than that. Hugs affect the entire body to such an extent that many scientists claim it is equivalent to the effect of many different drugs operating on the body simultaneously.

In a study on fears and self-esteem, research published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that hugs and touch significantly reduce worry of mortality. The studies found that hugging - even if it was just an inanimate object like a teddy bear - helps soothe individuals' existential fears. "Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance," lead researcher Sander Koole wrote in the study.

According to another study, a hug can be good medicine for the heart too. In an experiment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, participants who didn't have any contact with their partners developed 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.

Dopamine may not be something you’re too familiar with but everything everyone does involves protecting and triggering the dopamine flow. Dopamine is the pleasure hormone responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling, and it's also responsible for motivation! Many drugs of abuse act through this system. Problems with this system can lead to serious depression and other mental illness. Low dopamine levels also play a role in the neurodegenerative disease Parkinson's as well as mood disorders such as depression. Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine and hugs are said to adjust those levels as the brain is stimulated to release the pleasure hormone. MRI and PET scans reveal that when someone is hugged or listen to music that excites them, their brain releases dopamine and does so even in anticipation of those moments.

Hugs also balance out the nervous system. The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped pressure centres that can sense touch and are in contact with the brain through the nervous system. The skin’s response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the parasympathetic nervous system.

So there you are. Now you know that a mere hug can do a world of good for you and your hug recipient, go find someone to hug this National Hug Day.