Hugs!


hugsWhen I told my daughter on Saturday that we were going to see Grandma and Papa, she grinned hugely, opened her arms wide and exclaimed “Hugs!”

Indeed the day was full of hugs for her, starting from the moment we arrived and Grandma and Papa came to the door, sweeping her off her feet and into their arms. It wasn’t long before we were down in the basement exploring every drawer, box and bag, with Grandma producing such treasures as Red Gold tomato stickers, plastic dinosaurs and an old jump rope.

The jump rope quickly became a game of “Got ya’”, in which Grandma would be at one end of the rope, our daughter at the other. Grandma would “reel” her in for a great big hug and kiss. “Again, again!”

Hugs are amazing things. They are a form of affection that is practiced in most every culture, across generations. Hugs can be exchanged in public, usually without stigma. Hugging is a stress reliever, with positive physical touch almost immediately slowing breathing and heart rate.

In one study at the university of North Carolina, one group of couples were asked to hug for 20 seconds and then hold hands for ten minutes during a video while a second group sat quietly with no physical contact with their partners during the same video. Both groups were then asked to talk about a particularly stressful event in their lives. The huggers had lower blood pressure than the non-huggers, and their heart rates returned to normal more quickly after they finished talking about the event. Hugging appears to increase levels of oxytoxin, “the bonding hormone” in the blood, and in women, hugging decreases cortisol, “the stress hormone.”

Many psychologists and medical professionals suggest that the physical and mental health benefits of hugging are huge, and that humans are “hard-wired” for hugging. This positive physical touch becomes increasingly important for people who live alone, such as the elderly.

Many studies about behavior have shown that children who are frequently hugged are more secure and confident. Some readers may even remember the brief fad of bumper stickers that asked “Have you hugged your child today?” It’s a good question, and it’s a shame it was a fad. When I was single, one of my friends, a clinical psychologist with two small children, said that she always made sure that she hugged her children every day, telling them “I love you, love you, love you.” She claimed it may be the most important thing that she did as a parent.

A quick Google search on “hugs and health” reveals an often quoted “prescription” for hugging: “It takes four hugs a day to survive, eight to maintain and twelve to grow.” I think I may do a little informal investigation into my average daily hug intake and see if I can increase it. How many hugs do you get in a day? Could you increase the number?

Basically science has confirmed something human culture has known for centuries and that my two-year-old has already figured out. When you get an “owie” you go to Mom or Dad for a hug, because hugging can make the pain go away. And, if you just want to feel good, you go to Grandma and Papa’s and immerse yourself in hugs.

© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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