Not too long ago, I attended FinCon. My attendance came at a tough time in my life. The good news is that I felt among friends — people I could truly trust. I was able to say things I haven’t been able to get off my chest for more than four months.
And, best of all, there were a lot of friendly hugs.
One of the things I realized as my time at FinCon wore on was that I felt better and better. My stress levels decreased and my mood improved dramatically. And, apparently, it’s not entirely in my head. Scientific studies indicate that hugs can help your health. They can be good for your emotional, mental and physical health.
Touch and Stress Relief
One of the best ways that non-sexual, supportive hugs can help your health has to do with reducing your stress levels. According to a report from NPR, pressure receptors under the skin send signals to a particular nerve that can actually reduce blood pressure:
The Pacinian corpuscles’ signals go directly to an important nerve bundle deep in the brain called the vagus nerve. The vagus sometimes is called “the wanderer” because it has branches that wander throughout the body to several internal organs, including the heart. And it’s the vagus nerve that then slows the heart down and decreases blood pressure.
On top of that, hugging can reduce levels of cortisol, which is considered the “stress hormone.” If you want to relieve stress, it can be as simple as holding someone’s hand or giving them a hug.
I know that I’ve been trying to hug my son more since our recent life upheavals, and he seems to respond well to that contact. He’s adjusting well so far. I don’t know how much of it is his natural resiliency and how much is helped along by my efforts, we’re doing what we can to get a good new start.
Protecting Against Illness
Another interesting effect hugs can have has to do with physical illness. A study from Carnegie Mellon indicates that physical support in the form of hugs can help reduce symptoms:
Among infected participants, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms whether or not they experienced conflicts.
Stress can weigh on your body and make you more susceptible to illness. Relieving that stress can help reduce problems with illness.
The Healing Power of Hugs
My trip to FinCon probably combined a lot of things to help me take a step forward. I got to spend time with friends. I was able to talk about what I needed to talk about. I was able to lay down some of the responsibility that has weighed me down. I’m back to that responsibility now, and it’s not any easier, but the time I spent, and all of the friendly supportive contact I received makes it bearable.
I feel much better now. I also feel healthier and happier. It’s not perfect, of course, and I’m sure that I’ll still feel sad, lonely and frustrated sometimes. But I think there’s a lot to be said for getting away, hanging out with people you know care and getting a lot of hugs.