As a kid, I had mixed feelings about hugs. I loved them from Mom and Dad, but was traumatized by the affection of a loving grown-up who embraced me at every gathering. (I’m still haunted by a particularly long side-hug from this jovial woman, whose warm, fleshy armpit happened to be the exact same height as my face.) Yet, despite my early fear of paralyzing death grips, I have grown to appreciate the many health benefits of a proper hug!
Still feeling a bit stand-offish? Embrace the findings: Hugs have been shown to reduce blood pressure and can help combat the effects of stress. Loving contact before a tough day at work can “carry over and protect you throughout the day,” says psychologist Karen Grewen at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina. Tiffany Field, of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, notes that research is showing that touch lowers our amount of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol drops, two “feel good” brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, increase.1
I am not suggesting you grab everyone who crosses your path, especially if you are sporting a bathing suit (and bare arms) on a hot summer day. A spouse, partner or close friend will do. Below are a few suggestions for a good hug:
• Keep your hands placed in a “loving” and not “love-making” place! Bedroom hugs may be an interesting topic, but are not the focus of this article.
• Only hug when it can be sincere and unforced.
• The embrace should be warm and heartfelt. Focus your mind away from the dishes, work or how late you may be for an appointment and keep your attention on your co-hugger.
• Forget about the shoulder-only touches with separated torsos while rapidly applying pats on the back. That feels about as good as the “dead-fish” handshake.
• Warmly embrace with a firm, but not-too-hard hold.
• Your bodies should be touching, but avoid pinning the other person’s arm down.
• Relax and maintain a flowing breath.
There is no doubt that hugging comes with more benefits than could ever be researched. For those of you who already have a firm hold on performing this common act, take the opportunity to sneak in a few extra hugs each day. If you are uneasy about hugging, I encourage you give it a try. Remember the honor it is that you will be hugged back!