The benefits of hugging, close contact, and cuddling should by no means to be underestimated. When we hug, or have close contact with our loved ones, family, pets, and others we care about, our levels of Oxytocin are increased.
It’s worth considering just how often you hug or cuddle – daily, weekly, or less frequently? Those who hug often and have close contact with loved ones and partners reveal higher levels of Oxytocin under test conditions than those with less contact, as illustrated in the work of Dr Kathleen C. Light of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
So what’s the deal with Oxytocin I hear you ask?
Oxytocin, dubbed the ‘Cuddle Chemical’ by neuroscientists, is a hormone existent in many animals, including humans, and is created by the hypothalamus in the brain. Oxytocin works with the brains Dopamine Reward System, the system that controls an individuals reaction to rewards e.g. food, pleasure, social interactions, etc, and tells the individual to repeat the behaviour for more of the rewarding experience.
Oxytocin isn’t just a hormone that makes us feel good. It is scientifically proven to affect our well-being, levels of trust, life satisfaction, resilience, and mood.
Research shows that hugging, having a close bond, and laughter is extremely effective at healing illness, disease, loneliness, and managing stress. Oxytocin is also helpful for mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Research shows a full deep hug can benefit you in many ways:
- Raising those invaluable Oxytocin levels that can heal feelings of isolation, anger, and loneliness
- Building trust and a sense of safety
- Increasing another chemical called Serotonin, a chemical which works alongside the Dopamine system and is effectual in our mood and happiness levels
- Boosting self-esteem and self-worth levels. These are formed in early development through hugs and cuddles from parents and other significant caregivers.
- Relaxing muscles, which is particularly beneficial in pain management and soothing aches and tension. This is seen in the essential role Oxytocin plays for women during childbirth.
- Assisting breastfeeding mums by stimulating milk.
- Helping us to appreciate the moment. A hug, much like meditation and mindfulness, teaches us how to be present and in the moment.
- Providing us with a balance of giving and receiving by their mutual co-dependency and co-benefit, and teaching us about sharing, and love.
It may come as little surprise then that Oxytocin is on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines (World Health Organisation, 1977). Research relating to Oxytocin is varied and as yet on-going and without clear answers to the entire ‘W’ questions. However, it is very apparent that there is a wealth of health benefits to be gained from hugging and close contact, including less direct aspects of affectionate contact e.g. a telephone call, giving or receiving a Hug-in-a-Box©, or a letter or text from someone showing care and affection.