For many of us, one of the hardest things about the pandemic protocol was not being able to hug our friends and family. Now that many people are vaccinated, hugs are making a comeback. Experts say that not only does hugging make you feel great, it provides health benefits as well.
According to The Conversation, we communicate socially by using our sense of touch. There are two types of touch, the “fast touch” like a fly landing on your nose of quickly touching a hot surface, and the “slow touch” that uses a group of nerves called c-tactile afferents, which process emotional responses to the act of touching.
When someone gives us a hug, the c-tactile afferents send signals throughout the body via the spinal cord into the brain’s emotion processing networks. This triggers a flow of neurochemicals, such as the soothing hormone oxytocin, that have many health benefits.
Here are some health benefits of hugging:
- Improves sleep. Infants learn to cuddle very early in life and touch is the first sense to start working in the womb, says The Conversation. Gentle touch or sleeping with a partner helps lower cortisol, a hormone that is a key-regulator in the sleep-wake cycle.
- Makes you less reactive to stress. Social touch helps us become more resilient to stress by increasing oxytocin levels and lowering cortisol levels in the regions of the brain responsible for regulating emotions.
- Increases feelings of well-being and pleasure. Hugging releases endorphins that make us feel better and reinforce the benefits of hugging. It helps bond people together and maintain our relationships. Even stroking your pet can trigger this pleasurable reaction.
- Fights off infections. By regulating the levels of hormones in our bodies, hugging may help boost the immune system to ward off infections. It could even protect us against the common cold, according to The Conversation.
- Relieves pain. Hugging releases endorphins, which block pain pathways and soothe aches by increasing circulation to soft tissues, says Collective Evolution.
Mental health experts note that social isolation and loneliness are known to increase our chances of premature death. The lack of tactile communication during the pandemic may have negatively affected our mental health as well as our physical well-being.
According to a Gallup poll last December, America’s mental health deteriorated to the worst point it has been in two decades. Only 34% of U.S. adults said their mental health was excellent, down from 43% last year. While it was wise to play it safe, if you are vaccinated, it may be time to reinstate hugs to reap their health benefits for your mental health.
If you don’t feel comfortable hugging another person, giving yourself a great, big bear hug will help reduce stress and regulate mood swings, say experts.
© 2022 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.