There’s nothing quite like getting a warm embrace from a close friend or family member after not seeing them for a long time. As more people are getting vaccinated and re-connecting, touch is slowly coming back into people’s lives. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about living in California is the philosophy of “hugs over handshakes”, and while it’s taken a backseat during COVID, it’s starting to make a comeback.

Without a doubt, touch, and hugs in particular are a pivotal part of human fulfillment and development. Countless studies have shown that touch-deprived children end up with developmental problems, and touch deprivation can lead to health issues like anxiety and depression.

But what actually happens to your brain while hugging?

Hugs Reduce Stress

Think back to the last time you received a good hug, did you feel more calm and relaxed? This is likely due to the release of Oxytocin, which has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone”. Researchers have shown the release of this hormone can help reduce inflammation, as well as lower heart rate and stress. Additionally, it can relax your muscles by releasing tension in the body.

Hugs Make Us Happier

Not only do hugs release oxytocin, but they also have been shown to increase serotonin. This is an important hormone that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. There have also been studies that show that hugs can help offset the effects of depression, making subjects feel less depressed and more energetic.

Hugs Boost Our Immune System

One of the side-effects of being chronically stressed is that it makes it easier for you to get sick. In one study, researchers found that those who received hugs were less susceptible to severe signs of sickness. Having a gentle pressure on the sternum can help stimulate the thymus gland which balances the production of white blood cells leading to a healthier body.

Next time you’re feeling stressed, instead of resorting to an unhealthy coping mechanism like drugs or alcohol, go for a hug instead!