Whenever I’m overwhelmed or feeling down, I tend to crave touch. A hug, a hand to hold; a connection that can manifest into something that’s tangible. And even on stress-free days, I may seek out the healing components that touch has to offer.
Is the act of human touch an innate need, ingrained within? Not necessarily (in my opinion), but on a superficial level, it very well could be. Research demonstrates that touch contains several health benefits for our physiological and psychological well being.
A 2011 article on CNN.com discusses the numerous positive effects associated with physical contact and affection.
Hugging induces oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” that’s renowned for reducing stress, lowering cortisol levels and increasing a sense of trust and security. According to research conducted at the University of North Carolina, women who receive more hugs from their partners have lower heart rates and blood pressure and higher levels of oxytocin.
“Hugs strengthen the immune system,” according to a post on mindbodygreen.com. “The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keeps you healthy and disease free.”
The CNN post notes that holding hands produces a calming response. James Coan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, administered MRIs to 16 married women, relaying that they may experience a mild shock. The anxiety illustrated various brain activity, but when the women held hands with one of the experimenters, their stress dissipated — when they held hands with their husbands, stress decreased even further.
Coan observed that there was a “qualitative shift in the number of regions in the brain that just weren’t reacting anymore to the threat cue.” The article continues to state that, interestingly enough, hand clasping in happy relationships reduces stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which lowers cortisol levels throughout the system, as well as the area in the brain that registers pain.
Snuggling has the potential ability to bolster communication.
“Most people want to feel understood and communication is the vehicle by which they transmit understanding and empathy,” David Klow, a marriage and family therapist, said. “Non-verbal communication can be a very powerful way to say to your partner, ‘I get you.’ Cuddling is a way of saying, ‘I know how you feel.’ It allows us to feel known by your partner in ways that words can’t convey.”
Human touch — hugging, hand holding, cuddling, and other outlets of contact — can be beneficial, health-wise, physically and emotionally. (Oxytocin for the win!) And as I’m typing this, sifting through cold-recovery mode with a bit of laryngitis, I can’t help but think that a hug would be a great immunity booster at the moment. Hmmm…