The Power of a Hug: How to Satisfy Our Need for Touch

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Are you a hugger? I know we are all restrained in these days of COVID, but before the virus – were you someone who gave and received a lot of hugs? Did you greet people – friends and new acquaintances – with a hug over a handshake? Do you enjoy a good cuddle, whether it’s with your partner, kids, or dog? Consider, if you will, the incredible power of a hug.

I can still remember a few of the words to a song my kids learned in preschool, “4 hugs a day – that’s the minimum! 4 hugs a day – NOT the maximum!” And it’s so true – children can never be hugged too much or too often. But what about as we grow older?

Do we still need hugs?

According to family therapist Virginia Satir , “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” (Maybe she wrote that pre-school song!) While that may sound like a lot of hugs, it seems that many hugs are better than not enough.

Man and woman giving each other intimate hug

First of All, What is a Hug?

Merriam Webster gives definition as both a noun “a close embrace with the arms especially as a sign of affection” and verb “to press (someone or something) tightly in one’s arms especially as a sign of affection”.

The Urban Dictionary further adds “A hug can be between friends, relatives, man and woman, and human and animal, as well as animal to animal. A hug is an expression of warmth and friendliness with arms outstretched around the other. Hugs are used as an expression of love, kindness, sympathy, friendliness, greetings, and used sometimes to say goodbye. Hugs or cuddles provide a sense of intimacy.”

Our skin is our body’s largest and most sensitive organ. Touch is the first of our senses to develop, and we continue to need to stimulate this most primitive sense throughout our lives.

Scientists have demonstrated that skin contact is essential for our overall well-being and that “skin hunger”- the need for skin-to-skin contact – actually does exist.

But how exactly does this contact help us?

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What Are the Benefits of Hugging?

Hugs can make you happier

Oxytocin is a hormone associated with positive feelings, happiness, and stress reduction. It is released when we hug or cuddle, touch, or are close to someone we care about.

Scientists have found that this hormone has a particularly strong effect on women. This may explain why we often feel that women are more frequent huggers than men.

Older couple facing away from camera, sitting and hugging while wearing blue shirts and big hats

Hugs can reduce stress

In addition to releasing oxytocin, hugs can lower cortisol levels which can help counteract the physiological experience of being stressed. This effect lasts beyond just the few seconds of the hug itself.

Regular hugging can reduce the impact of stressful experiences long after the skin contact has ended.

Interestingly, even a one-sided hug can help relieve stress for the person giving the hug as well as the recipient.

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Hugs can protect against illness and reduce pain

The hormonal effects of hugging may help protect against illness. Studies have shown that frequent hugs can reduce the chances of a person getting sick. They can also reduce both the number and severity of symptoms in those who do get sick.

Many forms of therapeutic touch, including hugging, have also been shown to reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and other painful ailments.

Hugging can reduce blood pressure levels and heart rate, and thus can be considered “heart healthy”.

Hugs can help calm anxiety and self-doubt

When you receive a hug from someone you care about, it can generally leave you feeling safe, cared for, and loved.

Scientists have found that hugs and other forms of touch can reduce anxiety and feelings of panic, reduce shame and self-doubt, and boost self-esteem.

The findings also held true when people held a “cuddle-able” object such as a teddy bear.

Hugs can be a way of communicating

Most human communication occurs verbally or through facial expressions or body language. Humans tend to be highly visual. But touch is another important way that people can send messages to one another.

When touching different parts of another person’s body, one can express many different feelings. Some emotions expressed include anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, happiness, sadness, and sympathy.

Hugging is a very comforting type of touch that sends positive messages of caring and support.

With the ability to do all of these things, we can clearly see the incredible power of a hug.

What Are Different Types of Hugs?

Greeting or Goodbye Hug

As you can guess, this hug is used when greeting someone else, or when people are parting ways. Usually it involves both people putting one arm around the other, with hands touching the back of the other person. Familiar people will generally get a longer hug, and new acquaintances will receive a quick hug perhaps with a gentle back pat.

Friendly Hug

This hug is an open, comfortable, casual hug shared by friends, family members, or others that are familiar and comfortable with each other. Generally, every person in the hug puts one or both arms around the other and leans in close. It lasts longer than the Greeting Hug. Imagine the hug you give a friend who has just done something really kind for you – that’s a friendly hug.

Back Hug

This is a hug one person gives to another without reciprocation. Generally occuring while standing, one person simply hugs another from behind.

Bear Hug

This is a big, long lasting hug. People wrap their arms around each other, and hold each other close and quite tight in a bear hug.

Group Hug

A group hug is essentially a bear hug with at least three huggers – maybe more!

via GIPHY

Intimate Hug

An intimate hug would be a romantic, perhaps sexual, hug between committed and loving partners. Long-lasting, with bodies close together, it has a high level of intimacy.

Therapeutic Hug

A therapeutic hug is given with the intention of offering comfort and calm to another. It is generally a long hug and likely to be one-sided, with the focus on giving strength and encouragement to another.

Experience the Benefits of Touch in Your Own Life

  • Increase the number of hugs you give each day
  • Don’t just hug other people; hugging pets, pillows, and stuffed animals can also provide benefits
  • Increase the duration of your hugs. The longer your hugs last, the better both you and the person you’re hugging will feel. That’s the power of a hug!
  • Hold hands with a family member, close friend, or romantic partner
  • Trade off giving and receiving massages with your partner
  • Give yourself a hug, too!

Also read:

Final Thoughts on The Incredible Power of a Hug

Our bodies are made to provide and respond to physical contact. Touch is our original and most primitive sense, and thus has great power to heal and comfort. Next time you see someone in pain, try giving them a hug. And when you feel sad, lonely, or as if the world is crumbling around you, ask for a hug. You’ll feel better, and so will the other person, when you understand the true power of a hug.

It’s a win-win situation!

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two women smiling and giving each other a big hug

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