By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
New research suggests that prevention of infections and reducing stress-related illness might be as simple as a hug from a trusted person. The findings of this latest research were published in Psychological Science. It found that the physical act of hugging is associated with protection from the effects of depression and anxiety, as well as lessening the number of stress-induced infections and severe illness symptoms.
The research team studied hugging as an example of social support, because hugs are typically a marker of having a more intimate and close relationship with another person. People who have ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses and infection. The interesting fact is what hugging represents to the participants. They stated that hugging made them feel more connected, more supported, more validated and intimate with the hugger, which had a direct effect on their immune system. The researchers went on to say that those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.
If you’ve decided that this is your year to be on a health kick, in addition to watching your diet and exercising, you may want to add hugging to your list of daily activities.
Here are six ways to protect your health and relationships with hugs:
1. Studies show people who are hugged regularly by their close friends and family have reduced blood pressure, lower heart rates and feel more connected to one another.
2. People who are contented in their marriages report frequent hugging and non-sexual touching.
3. Couples who report hugging or cuddling frequently also report feeling more emotionally connected to their partner. They also reported feeling more secure than non-hugging/minimal-touch couples.
4. Ten minutes of hand-holding or hugging greatly reduced couples’ reported stress and the harmful effects of stress on their body.
5. The release of oxytocin in the body from hugging helps foster a healthy immune system.
6. Children who grow up watching their parents hug feel more secure and perform better in school.
As you begin the new year, don’t forget the most important gift you can give all year round, the gift of belonging, being valued and being emotionally connected to your loved ones. Something as simple as a hug can provide those feelings and it doesn’t cost you a thing.
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.