The simple hug is not so simple. It has many benefits for us. A hug can show support, comfort, and consolation. It can take the place of words when there are no words that can express your feelings, or when words are not enough. A hug usually shows affection, fondness, and emotional warmth.
Sometimes, a hug is offered with a great deal of thought behind it. At other times, it can be spontaneous, representing a burst of glee, a bubbling up of joy, or happiness. It can be a vibrant celebration. It can be a gentle, loving show of devotion. Hugging conveys different emotions.
The simple hug is a two-way street. Both the hugger and the hugged (or is it the ‘huggee’?) reap the benefits of the embrace.
Would you like a hug?
When we give a hug, there is often a precursor action that acts as asking for permission. We stand in front of a person, make eye contact, wear an expression of warmth on our face, open our arms, step closer, and when they give their consent by stepping closer to us with their arms outstretched, we welcome them into our embrace.
Sometimes, it is important to ask permission verbally, “Would you like a hug?” Or “May I give you a hug?” It is our responsibility to read each other’s cues, determine what level of our personal relationship is with the recipient of our hug, and respond accordingly. And through all of this, we must remember to not combine a hug with a pat on the back. The back-patting that often accompanies a hug can be read as either insincerity or as a nervous reaction to being close to another person. It’s best to hold your hands still and calm on the huggee’s upper back.
In these times of the pandemic, many people are finding that they miss both being hugged and giving hugs. They are discovering that they yearn for physical contact with friends and family to whom they don’t get to be physically close. Hugging also brings some benefits to us. Here are six, out of many reasons why humans want, need, and seek out this contact.
- Heart Healthy. Hugging activates the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. This slows our heart rate.
- Lowers Stress. If we are feeling a bit drained or pressured, we can find someone we care about and give them an all-enveloping hug. This will lower our cortisol production.
- Child Development. Gentle, loving touch is critical to infants, especially in their early stages of life as it helps them bond with others as they get older. It helps them become well-adjusted teenagers and adults. We all want teenagers to be well-adjusted, am I right?
- Elder Care. Physical touch and hugging can combat feelings of loneliness that arise as people get older. Can you remember your grandparents coming in for a hug? Or sitting you on their lap? It was as much for them as it was for you.
- Mindfulness. There is a hugging meditation by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh which can be used to bring more awareness, presence, and togetherness into our lives. Just like Laughter Yoga, Hugging Meditation brings us back to the basics of human development.
- Calmness & Peace. When we hug for 20 seconds or more, (This is a LOOOONNNGG hug and it might take practice to hug that long. Set a timer and try it!) the feel-good hormone oxytocin is released with creates a stronger bond and connection between the huggers. Oxytocin has been shown to boost the immune system and reduce stress.
A simple hug can change your day
So you see, the simple hug is not so simple. A consensual hug can be one of the best things in your day because of its benefits to us. If you can’t find someone to hug, hug yourself by hugging your pet or hugging your pillow. Rub your arms and share loving thoughts with yourself. And then, when it is possible, find someone to practice those 20-second hugs with.
Give yourself a hug. Be both the hugger and the huggee. Feel the peace and comfort of a hug.
Listen to our flash briefings episode 276: The Importance of Community Support for Lipedema
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