Hugging Creates a Physiological Response Equivalent to Drugs
Hugs make you feel good for a reason and it’s not just the loving embrace that gives us that warm feeling in our hearts. It’s much more.
It affects the entire body to such an extent that many scientists claim it is equivalent to the effect of many different drugs operating on the body simultaneously.
Even seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch can help people deal with their emotions with clarity and more effectively.
In a study on fears and self-esteem, research published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that hugs and touch significantly reduce worry of mortality.
The studies found that hugging — even if it was just an inanimate object like a teddy bear — helps soothe individuals’ existential fears.
“Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance,” lead researcher Sander Koole wrote in the study.
2. STIMULATES OXYTOCIN
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system, the brain’s emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment, reducing anxiety and stress, and even making mammals monogamous. It is the hormone responsible for us all being here today.
You see this little gem is released during childbirth, making our mothers forget about all of the excruciating pain they endured expelling us from their bodies and making them want to still love and spend time with us.
New research from the University of California suggests that it has a similarly civilizing effect on human males, making them more affectionate and better at forming relationships and social bonding. And it dramatically increased the libido and sexual performance of test subjects.
More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate. The chemical has also been linked to social bonding.
“Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding,” DePauw University psychologist Matt Hertenstein told NPR.
“It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.”
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.
3. LOWERS HEART RATE
Embracing someone may warm your heart, but according to one study a hug can be good medicine for it too: In an experiment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill , participants who didn’t have any contact with their partners developed a quickened heart rate of 10 beats per minute compared to the five beats per minute among those who got to hug their partners during the experiment.
4. STIMULATES DOPAMINE
Everything everyone does involves protecting and triggering dopamine flow. Many drugs of abuse act through this system. Problems with the system can lead to serious depression and other mental illness. Low dopamine levels also play a role in the neurodegenerative disease Parkinson’s as well as mood disorders such as depression.
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, and it’s also responsible for motivation!
Hugs stimulate brains to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone. MRI and PET scans reveal that when you hugs people or listen to music that excites you, your brain releases dopamine and even in anticipation of those moments.
Dopamine sensors are the areas that many stimulating drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine target. The presence of a certain kinds of dopamine receptors are also associated with sensation-seeking.
5. STIMULATES SEROTONIN
Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Loneliness and depression appears when serotonin is absent. It’s perhaps one reason why people fall into gang and criminal activity — the culture brings experiences that facilitate serotonin release.
Reaching out and hugging releases endorphins and serotonin into the blood vessels and the released endorphins and serotonin cause pleasure and negate pain and sadness and 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. Hugging for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
6. WELL-HUGGED BABIES ARE LESS STRESSED AS ADULTS
Want to do something for future generations? Hug them when they’re still little. An Emory University study in rats found a link between touch and relieving stress, particularly in the early stages of life.
The research concluded that the same can be said of humans, citing that babies’ development — including how they cope with stress as adults — depends on a combination of nature and nurture.
7. PARASYMPATHETIC BALANCE
Hugs balance out the nervous system. The skin contains a network of tiny, egg-shaped pressure centres called Pacinian corpuscles that can sense touch and which are in contact with the brain through the vagus nerve.
The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.
8. ENHANCE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Research shows that the hug hormones above are immuno-regulatory. All of this has an even deeper meaning on the way our systems work with each other, including our immune system.
This also parallels with the way that hugs promote the relaxation response — they help to change the way your body handles both physical and social stresses, thus boosting your immune system naturally, to do the job it was designed to do!
Free Hugs Campaign
By Josh Richardson, Prevent Disease; | References: tiny shift; dopamine project; brain hq; huffington post; npr; daily mail; nih gov;