|A father hugging his son after they saw each other. / Photo by: piksel via 123RF|
Since the time of a human’s birth, physical touch is a critical part of their development. This is because according to superhealinglife.com, humans are social, warm-blooded creatures who thrive on contact and connection. Children who grew up without much physical contact are more prone to developing personality disorders and have difficulty forming healthy social connections, can end up with brains developing later than normal, have a higher rate of acquiring infections and can have severe attachment anxiety. This is why physical touch is important for individuals to experience.
One of these forms of touch is hugging, which has been proven to be beneficial both physically and mentally. It has been stated by Virginia Satir, a family therapist, that, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
Why is hugging necessary and how can everyone benefit from it? These will be explained later in the further sections.
What does it mean to hug?
Hugging is defined by exploringyourmind.com as “ holding another person close between their arms as a form of greeting, affection, or comfort.” Additionally, changingminds.org says that it is also a common interaction between individuals wherein bodies are brought into close proximity with one another.
Why Do People Hug?
|A woman hugging her partner. / Photo by: Wavebreak Media Ltd via 123RF|
With the definition of a hug explained, what are the reasons people hug? There are several reasons why individuals engage in hugging.
In accordance to what changingminds.org and BBC say, these include:
When a hug is used as a means of greeting it is highly ritualized with set action and timings.
This can be done when both meeting people and leaving people.
This kind of hug is given to a console a distressed person.
This often lasts longer and continues until the other person has calmed down.
This type of hug is used to form trust and create and create an emotional and identity-forming bond.
This hug is used between friends.
Touching signals trust and reaffirms the bond of friendship.
Hugging is an essential part of romantic relationships.
It is often given as a sign of simple affection and a prelude to a kiss.
It is more frequent and longer than affection hugs in duration and more inclined to involve full-body touching.
Hugs can also show ownership of a romantic partner, especially in males. When a man puts an arm around his female partner in the presence of other males, it signals for them to back off. The reverse is also true.
It can be partly protective and have factors jealous guarding of a person’s “property.”
A man does this to his partner to communicate to her and to others that he is giving her shelter and that he is prepared to fight for her safety.
This involves a person invading someone else’s body space.
Taking charge of the other person’s body can be an apparent act of power, showing that the hugger can invade at will and does not need permission.
9. Showing identity
For the Welsh, they have a special term for hug which is “cwtch”. (This is pronounced as “kutch”.)
It has two definitions which mean to “cuddle” or “hug” while the other one is a cubbyhole or cupboard, a small space where one could keep things safe.
A clearer definition given by BBC is that it is, “the wrapping of arms to make them feel safe in the world.”
Cwtch is a kind of hug that the Welsh identifies with as comforting, warm and nostalgic.
To quote Eiffon Griffiths, a Welsh textile maker, “ It’s a non-threatening hug, it’s not a danger or a threat. It’s a safe space, something that takes you back to your childhood, something that makes you feel warm -- not just physically but emotionally.”
The Hug Process
|A military personnel hugging his daughter after a long time. / Photo by: Wavebreak Media Ltd via 123RF|
This is how people engage in hugging:
As people come in contact with each other, one person may signal an incoming hug either with one arm or both arms open wide.
The individuals will then look at each other to see that the other is smiling and showing delight.
The hugger may wait for a sign that their hug will be returned. Afterwards, they will approach each other to lock in an embrace.
Before the embrace, other kinds of touching may be involved such as hand-clasping or arm-grabbing.
This may be short and involve the huggers rushing toward each other and grabbing the other.
This is the main part of the hug which may be one-armed or two armed. It can also come from the front, side or be an angular hug.
The body contact can range from polite head touching to a full body one.
It usually lasts for a few seconds and should give off feelings of comfort and happiness.
A person can only feel distressed when hugging when it is misunderstood and when someone gives it to them to show domination.
When individuals are in an embrace, they may engage in other actions or interactions.
These may include back-rubbing, arm squeezing, back-slapping, cheek-touching, cheek kissing, hand-holding, head holding, head-holding, talking and the like.
This is the moment when the huggers involved will let go and pull away from each other.
Depending on the situation, one of the huggers will cling to the hug longer. This can be a sign of attraction or a display refusing to let go of the intensity of comfort or affection.
The releaser may give and allow the hug to continue for longer or choose to push away the other person and break free from the hug.
Why Should People Hug More?
As previously mentioned, hugging gives a person numerous health benefits.
The positive effects of a hug are:
1. Release of oxytocin
Oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone.’ It is released from the pituitary gland during hugging to increase bonding between loved ones. It also boosts feelings of connection, trust, and contentment in relationships. This can also enhance intimacy, optimism, closeness and general feelings of well-being. Oxytocin is also known to help lower levels of anxiety and stress
2. Lowering of cortisol and stress
Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone”. An increase of oxytocin release is partially responsible for the reduction of cortisol. It helps calm down the nervous system and increases overall contentment. It can also lower blood pressure, heart rate and further risk of developing a heart disease.
3. Accelerates wound healing
In a study where oxytocin was injected into a rat with a wound, the wound seemed the heal quicker than normal.
This shows that oxytocin may not only be a love and trust hormone but may also be the reason why wounds heal faster.
4. Strengthens social bonds
This is one of the most observable benefits.
It is said that the sense of touch is the fundamental language for demonstrating love and care.
A hug breaks all the barriers between different races and even different species.
Other species such as worms use close contact and physical touch to strengthen health.
There are several studies that reveal that married couples who hugged more often had longer marriages.
5. Boosts immunity
In connection to the lessening of stress, the immune system the immune system becomes less suppressed.
There was a research conducted which showed that hugs provide stress-buffering and some protection against colds and respiratory illness.
In addition, those who developed colds in the study appeared to have less severe symptoms.
6. Protects the heart
It was discovered by some studies that hugs can improve cardiovascular and blood pressure.
It was revealed that elevations of both heart rate and blood pressure were found to be less, especially in female groups of huggers who participated in the study.
7. Fights depression
Hugs are excellent at improving moods and raising levels of feel-good neurotransmitters.
Due to this, they are also used as a treatment for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
8. Increase in confidence and security
Receiving and giving hugs makes a person feel supported and protected.
It can make the heartbeat slower and it also calms the nerves.
9. Reduces anger
It is effective for reconciliation.
It also creates sympathy in someone an individual does not know or do not have much affinity for.
10. Improving moods
Hugs are also known to make a person feel happy and secure.
11. Lowers pain levels
The act of hugging releases different feel-good transmitters within the brain which can have a positive effect on pain levels.
It also releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, also known as the “pleasure chemicals”, which can all fight against the severity and perception of pain within the body.
To add, here are other advantages of giving and getting a hug:
- Improves certain behavioral patterns in children
- Helps people rest and sleep better
- Increases attention and motivation
- Calms brain which helps prevent memory and concentration problems
- Reduces the risk of suffering from early dementia because it balances the nervous system
- Feeling of safety and protection
- Transmission of energy and strength
- Promotes a sense of tranquility
To summarize, hugging is not only a form of touch communication (otherwise known as haptic communication), a way to show affection and care or a manner of affirming bonds between people who are socially connected. It is also a way to combat stress, anxiety, depression, improve the immune system as well as a way to raise self-esteem and improve one’s mood. Whether it is done to deepen a bond, to help a person heal emotionally and physically or to make a person feel safe in their arms, it is clear that hugging is definitely a necessity for human survival. Since it has plenty of positive effects on the well-being of a person, it can also be considered as a natural form of medicine.