On the Power of the Self-Hug

Hugs are good medicine. During times of stress, they provide an immediate release and relief. Yet in the time of social distancing and pandemic, we may have much LESS access to touch, even when we might need it the most.

Hugs boost oxytocin levels. Elevated oxytocin levels lead to lessening of feelings of anger, loneliness, and isolation.

Hugs raise serotonin levels. Elevated Serotonin levels improve your mood, create a sense of well being, and help to regulate your sleep cycle.

Hugs release endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers, so getting a hug will actually help soothe aches and pains.

Hugs increase production of dopamine. Dopamine is produced in the reward center of the brain and makes you feel happy, relieves depression, and just makes you feel good.

Hugs reduce levels of circulating cortisol in the blood. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. By reducing the amount of cortisol circulating in the blood, hugs can alleviate stress and calm the mind.

Hugs lower blood pressure. Hugs activate pressure receptors in the skin called pacinian corpuscles, which send signals to the part of your brain responsible for lowering blood pressure.

Hugs strengthen your immune system. Hugs can help stimulate the thymus gland which regulates the body’s production of white blood cells, which fight off disease.

Hugs relax your muscles. Hugs relieve tension in the body and soothe pain. As a result, they increase circulation to the soft tissue and alleviate bodily tension.

So what happens, during periods of physical distancing and social isolation? Using the findings, I just described about the neuropsychology of hugs, we can actually learn to hug ourselves. What does someone do when they want to comfort another in distress? They may place their hand on their shoulder or rub their arm. This starts the beginning of a cascade of dopamine and another neurotransmitter called GABA. 

GABA is found throughout the brain (cortex). It functions to regulate anxiety using all of your senses, including touch, sound, and vision. Wrap your arms around yourself, crossing them across your chest. Slowly, stroke up and down your arms and shoulders. If you do this as part of a self soothing practice, the brain starts simulating the same effects as if someone you care for is actually hugging you. Someone you care for IS hugging you. You.

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