During a global pandemic, social distancing has been encouraged and with this, we faced a great loss- the act of hugging someone. Something that we had taken for granted became so invaluable and something that we craved. So why should we hug someone?

Hugging is a wonderfully diverse thing. It’s something that we do to feel connected and close to those we trust and consider to be a part of our support system. You get different types of hugs, in terms of limb placement, but also regarding the intensity of the ‘squeeze’ and the duration. Hugs can be offered as a social act, a way of greeting and saying farewell. They can be acts of kindness or a show of support. They can also be spontaneous and ‘just because’. Hugging can be used interchangeably to express or respond to a variety of complex emotions.

Take a moment and close your eyes… Imagine hugging your favourite person, or pet, or even teddy bear. I bet you can imagine how that hug feels and it brings a happy feeling into your awareness. That’s because hugs have all kinds of health benefits, including boosting our happiness.

Hugging releases a chemical called oxytocin. This has been nicknamed the cuddle hormone! This hormone is released when we hug someone meaningful. This can result in: reduced stress and anxiety levels, reduced blood pressure, a boost in self-esteem, a release of serotonin (happiness), a sense of belonging and connection, a reduction in pain levels, and hugs can even help increase our immune system.

Research conducted by Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Turner and Doyle found that those who felt socially supported and were hugged more often also experienced less-severe signs of illness. Murphy, Cohen and Janicki-Deverts went on to publish a 2018 study where they investigated whether the effects of a good hug can soothe you throughout the day, even if you face conflict afterward. Researchers found those who were hugged were less adversely affected by conflict exposure than those who weren’t hugged.

This means that hugging can assist with restoring our emotional sense of balance. The act of being hugged or hugging another allows for mutual emotional regulation.

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Virginia Satir, family therapist

written by Ashton Hayley Robertson, Clinical psychologist