In honour of National Hug Day, I’m writing about one of my absolutely favourite things. Hugs.
As a child, I was accused of being a limpet more times than I can remember. As I grew, there were jokes about me giving chiropractic adjustments. Yes, I’m a serious hugger!
This pandemic has really curtailed my hugging opportunities over the past year though. At first I felt a little down when I saw it was Hug Day, because it reminded me of how much I miss hugging my parents, wider family and friends.
Then I remembered that it is absolutely my choice how I feel about things, and I chose to focus on how lucky I am to have a child and dogs to hug at home and so many people to miss.
Why Are Hugs So Important?
Hugs can be magical experiences where we share the life force of the other person.
I get the same sense of shared energy from my dog sometimes. Not every time, but when she presses her whole body into me and relaxes, I feel that same closeness of souls.
Health Benefits of Hugs
Lots of research has been done into hugging and its very real scientific benefits.
- Good longs hugs (see point 3 in How Long below) are good for the health of your heart. They reduce the stress hormone norepinephrine and lower blood pressure.
- Regular hugging can improve your immune system – “Regular hugging with those closest to you yields a lot of positive health benefits that you really can’t live without. Those who enjoyed more affectionate relationships and had greater support were less likely to get sick, and if they did get sick, the symptoms weren’t as severe.”
- It can also be used to reduce pain. I know when my little girl hurts herself, the hug is what she wants more than the band aid. Okay, she loves band aids, but she always wants the hug.
How Long Should Hugs Last?
- For however long both parties in the hug are happy for it to last. There is no magic in a forced hug.
- The average hug apparently lasts about 3 seconds. This is enough to demonstrate a gesture of affection. It’s the hug equivalent of air kisses.
- If a hug lasts more than 20 seconds, oxytocin begins to be released. This is the same hormone released when we bond with puppies, babies or our lover. Psychology Today summed it up as: “Oxytocin offers a calming effect on the body and mind, and an increase in this hormone can have benefits on our overall health, supporting among many things, our sense of safety, decreasing anxiety, and increasing relaxation and a sense of calm.”
- Reminder of number 1 because it’s vitally important. Hugging is about giving, sharing and accepting, not taking.
How Many Hugs Should Happen Each Day?
In an ideal world:
4 hugs per day for survival
8 hugs per day for maintenance
12 hugs per day for growth
This is the prescription written by Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy.
Current world circumstances are not ideal. If you live with a family member and you both enjoying hugging each other, awesome! Luckily I am raising a cuddle monster so we spend a lot of time hugging.
If you don’t live with somebody who offers mutually nurturing cuddling opportunities, it is definitely more challenging.
Pets can be a great substitute, but only if they actually want to be in the hug.
The closest alternatives I could come up with were hugging yourself in a warm bath, or while snuggled up under duvet or blankets. There’s something about the warmth that feels vital to the process to me.
If you’ve got any top tips to offer other people who are alone at the moment, please let me know.
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