Hugging – we have a love hate relationship with the warm fuzzy embrace.
Being wrapped around our colleagues makes us feel awkward, but cuddling our partners, friends and family usually gives us a feeling of love and a sense of protection.
Today is World Hug Day, celebrated by a handful of countries every year and its time Australia, the nation that gave birth to the free hugs movement, got in on the big bear hug too.
Here’s why …
The feel good factor
We’re hard wired to share and benefit from physical contact with each other, it makes us feel happier and healthier when we hug, squeeze or pat each other because touch “lights up the reward centre in the central nervous systems,” says Sabine Read, a registered psychologist and social commentator for radio station 3AW.
“Even a warm handshake, a pat on the back, or lying close to mate on the couch can help contribute to improving our emotional and physical well-being.”
Hugging means less trips to the doctor
Hugging definitely helps us feel good but according to researchers in the Untied States it does more than that – hugging reduces the chances of us getting sick.
You wouldn’t be alone if you thought hugging to prevent illness sounded illogical. But a study that saw 404 volunteers infected with the common cold found that those who were hugged more were less likely to become ill because they were less stressed.
Embracing increases life expectancy
In Sweden, studies even showed that people had a better chance of living longer and links between a healthier lifestyle – less smoking and drinking – if they increased the amount of physical contact with others.
If hugging is so beneficial – what stops us from doing it more often?
A lack of touch and hugging also leads to sadness, loneliness and depression. So why aren’t we squeezing each other to death. “Fear, rejection, hurt, family of origin influences and cultural benefits” are all reasons why we avoid hugging. Read says that it’s “important to explore these barriers that prevent us from touching each other.
“Most of us can benefit from learning how to ask for the touch we desire. Often relationship difficulties are correlated with a lack of touch,” says Read who often works with couples and families and sees the sadness and loneliness that arises through lack of touch.
Babies need lots of hugs too
Not only adult’s benefit, hugging is important to babies’ early development. Sharon Daniels, a Cairns based psychologist said: “There has been much research on orphans who were not hugged as babies, they often have problems with thriving, in addition to emotional issues later in life.
“Where children have difficulty forming attachment to other people, they often have difficulty bonding with their own children,” says Daniels. Sabina Read added that frequent and loving touch reassures babies. But importantly “it has also been associated with improved sleep and greater social development in infants”.
We need to hug lots of different people
Everyone profits from hugging in fact. Both the initiator and the recipient get much more than just a warm fuzzy feeling out of the two handed embrace. And everyone should hug everyone, as a diversity of huggers – yes that means colleagues too – is the best way to wreak the benefits. “I think we do with more hugging,” says Daniels, “although we need to be mindful of when it is appropriate and when it is not”.
“World Hug Day may sound corny, but in a world where fear, pain, hurt, anger and disconnect surround us, I like the idea that World Hug Day may serve as a reminder of the pleasure and important of touch for each and every one of us,” says Read.
So why should we limit our embraces to one day – get hugging Australia.