A good friend of mine was over from Queensland a while back. We hadn’t seen each for many months and made a date to catch up for breakfast. I have never been a hugger. That touchy-feely stuff doesn’t really do it for me, or so I told myself for many, many years. However, as we saw each other, she walked toward me with arms outstretched and I reciprocated, we hugged. As we pulled away she said to me ‘you know the experts have changed their minds on the duration of a hug. A good hug should now be about 20 seconds.’ Huh, I responded. What are you talking about? She proceeded to tell me about a piece of research on hugs and how good they are for you, but they need to be sincere hugs, at least 20 seconds, none of that quick hug and pat on the back stuff.
Ha, I chortled. As if people are going to hug each other and start counting, you know, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, up to twenty. But, of course that is not the point. The point of a 20 second hug is to mean it, to embrace the other person long enough to transmit the love, warmth and sincerity, all the things a hug should convey.
There is science as it turns out, to the benefit of a hug.
Hugs, release four (4) ‘happy’ neurotransmitters – oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
Oxytocin often referred to as the ‘cuddle’ hormone creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships. We should all be thankful for oxytocin, as it is the hormone responsible for us being here today. It is released during childbirth, enabling mothers to forget about the pain of the birthing process and instead fall in love and want to spend more time with the end product, those little bundles of joy. When we hug someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies by our pituitary gland, lowering both our heart rates and our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Hugs also trigger another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Everything we do involves protecting and triggering dopamine flow. Many drugs of abuse act through this system. Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine and hugs are said to adjust those levels. Dopamine is responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling; it is often referred to as the pleasure hormone!
Hugging releases endorphins and serotonin into the blood vessels and these cause pleasure, negate pain and sadness, decrease the chances of getting heart problems, helps fight excess weight and prolongs life. Even the cuddling of pets has a soothing effect that reduces the stress levels.
A sincere hug will increase your sense of bonding and belonging, will increase your sense of pleasure, will make you feel good and confident, will decrease stress, and decrease the risk of common heart ailments.
Hugging elevates your mood, creating happiness. And the best part? It’s FREE!