Have you ever hugged someone, a friend or family member, who you hadn’t seen in a while and realized how good that hug felt? That’s because hugs actually affect our wellbeing and mood, and some studies have shown that hugs can keep us healthy.
When we hug someone, our body releases the hormone Oxytocin. This hormone is associated with empathy, trust, happiness, and less stress. But for a hug to really work its magic, it should be held until each person becomes relaxed. This means the hug should be comfortably held for a minimum of 20 seconds, rather than a quick embrace.
Not only can hugging increase our happiness and decrease our stress, it can also help us in dealing with illness. A 2014 study found that participants who received more hugs had less severe symptoms when exposed to the common cold virus than those who received fewer. (But please note that this does not mean we can rely on hugs to protect us from COVID-19).
Hugs help us bond with others, but they can do more than that. Another study, this one from 2013, found hugs can help reduce fears and anxiety in people with low self-esteem. Additionally, hugs are a comforting act, and help ease the fear of death and dying when people confront their own mortality.
So hugs can help our mental and physical wellbeing, but how many do we need to receive these benefits? Virginia Satir, who was a renowned American psychotherapist and an innovative person to the field of family therapy, 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.”
Hugging has many benefits, and one of the best in my opinion is that they make us feel connected to those we love and care about. If you’re nervous to ask someone for a hug, start first with close family and friends. Remember to continue being safe during this time, too! Even if you can’t wrap your arms around a loved one, any small contact will suffice. This can be holding hands or a gentle touch on the arm.
The next time you feel stressed, sad, or fearful, approach a close and trusted friend or family member for a hug. Who knows — it may be exactly what they need, too.