Bear hug Image:Marie Vonow
What is a quick way to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, reduce fatigue and boost your immune system? Hug someone you care about or have a cuddle with your pet.
Hugging benefits both the person giving the hug and the one receiving it. Often one party initiates the hug and then the other person hugs back and it just feels 'nice'. During a hug there is a release of oxytocin, the 'cuddle hormone' which helps with social bonding.
Research has shown chimps cuddle to comfort each other. Humans also benefit from a heartfelt hug in times of stress and sadness. Sometimes nothing says it like a hug.
As well as causing the release of oxytocin, hugging causes a drop in the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. This results in a release of tension from the body. At the same time calming messages are transmitted to the brain.
Hugging also helps fight infection and can ease depression. Who would have thought a simple hug could do so much?
What if you live alone and have no one at home to hug? A cuddle session with your pet brings many of the same benefits and is good for your pet too.
As people have come to realise the benefits of a cuddle, hug workshops, 'cuddle therapy centres' and cuddle parties have opened up. In these situations people can pay for a hug. The rules are that contact is strictly non-sexual, no clothing is removed and people must ask before hugging someone. Sometimes shoulder rubs and group hugs are part of the gathering.
However, it is not known if a hug 'bought' from a stranger has the same benefit as a 'free hug' from someone you know and trust. Some people feel it is sad anyone should be so socially isolated they need to pay for a hug.
What about sharing a free hug
with a stranger? Ryan Hauck writes about giving away free hugs click
Hugging is not the only form of touch that improves people's lives. Other forms of non sexual touch between people are beneficial. Holding someone's hand or even just touching their shoulder or arm can provide reassurance and comfort.
Different cultures react differently to hugging and other forms of non-sexual touch. Some cultures and some families are big on hugging and others are more restrained. Hugh Jackman sums up the importance of a hug at the end of the working day, 'When I come home, my daughter will run to the door and give me a big hug, and everything that's happened that day just melts away.'