Have you ever had a lousy day? The kind where funny cat videos and goofy memes cannot even turn that frown upside down? A hug can be the best solution to this down and out mood. Hugs have the power to release “feel good” hormones, relieve stress and even help protect you from catching a common cold. National Hugging Day is January 26th and was founded in 1986 as a way to encourage friends and family to hug each other more often. Hugging is a marker of intimacy and helps generate the feeling that others are there to support in the face of adversity. Humans are social creatures and thrive for connection. As a result, adults, babies, and children thrive on physical touch. We release the hormone oxytocin when touched, which elevates feelings of attachment, connection, trust, and intimacy. When we’re hugged, we feel less lonely. The lack of physical affection in infancy and childhood can lead to attachment disorders and behavioral disorders in children and can lead to unhealthy romantic relationships and friendships in adulthood.

• Holding a hug, hearts pressed together, increases serotonin levels and thereby elevating mood.
• Likewise, hugging releases oxytocin, a “bonding” hormone which creates attachment in relationships.
• Hugging relaxes muscles. When embracing in a hug, blood circulation increases, easing tension in muscles.
• Hugging pulls us into the moment and makes us dwell on the present. In addition to being a pivotal part of meditation, living in the present moment teaches us to build happiness and meaning and hold on to it.
• Hugging, an action that requires two willing participants, shows us the give and take in building relationships.
• Hugging boosts self-esteem and makes you feel better about yourself.

Looking at the research

Hugging decreases loneliness in the elderly: A Swedish study of 172 nursing home residents found residents who received hugs and physical touch, connected with friends and visitors, and were otherwise active socially, tended to thrive more than less social residents.

Hugging in early childhood prevents mental and physical health problems in adulthood: A study found parental affection as an indicator of a child’s future health. “Childhood adversity increases the risk for mental and physical health problems in adulthood,” explains study author Judith E. Carroll, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA. What does this have to do with hugging? According to this study, individuals who reported emotional and physical abuse in childhood, and limited love and affection from a parent were most at risk for health issues later in life.

Hugging prevents the spread of viral illnesses: Another study at Carnegie Mellon examined how stress and social support impacts immunity and susceptibility to infectious disease. Participants were exposed to a common cold virus and were then monitored in quarantine to assess signs of illness. The study found that those who felt socially supported and were hugged more often also experienced less-severe signs of illness.

National Hugging Day as an everyday approach

National hugging day is an awareness day to spread awareness about the importance of physical touch and connection; however, this type of relationship can and should be practiced on an everyday basis, all year long. Hugging is a non-verbal way to express compassion; empathy and love to any individual and can strengthen bond overtime in any relationship. We hug to convey that we care, that we’re grateful for a benefit received, that we share in an achievement. Receiving a hug, therefore, serves as a signal that the social relationship is characterized by closeness and concern.

Other Relevant Articles:

Supporting Caregivers in the Mental Health Realm

Emotional and Psychological Trauma in Teenagers: How Can Parents Help?