As social, tactile creatures, human beings thrive on the benefits of touch. A quick hug has a near-immediate impact on health, lowering your heart rate and inducing a calming effect while also leading to a more upbeat mood. So what is the connection between the physical touch of a hug and that lift in spirit?
Neuroeconomist, Dr. Paul Zak, has determined that the human brain naturally produces oxytocin in response to physical touch. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, a naturally occurring hormone in your body with incredibly powerful, health-giving properties. Often considered a major player in the regulation of trust and morality, its study is revealing fascinating information about human behavior and relationships. Oxytocin is released in the body when we feel safe and connected and tells the brain, “Everything is all right.”
Oxytocin helps us navigate our world of complex social relationships by rewarding positive social behavior with feelings of contentment and relaxation. Dr. Zak suggests that oxytocin thus motivates a variety of pro-social behaviors such as generosity, compassion, and forgiveness. Human relationships are what keep us alive on the most fundamental level both physically and psychologically and the presence of oxytocin in our brains helps us to trust and bond with others.
Happiness Weekly compiled some fun facts about hugging
that highlight just how incredible this act of touch really is. For instance, a full-body hug stimulates your nervous system while decreasing feelings of loneliness, combating fear, increasing self-esteem, defusing tension, and showing appreciation. As hugging increases oxytocin and reduces cortisol it leads us to a healthy heart and lower blood pressure.
So What Does This Mean to Us?
How can we take greater advantage of naturally occurring oxytocin and maximize its release in our own bodies? Oxytocin is found only in mammals and needs stimulation to be released. According to Wellsphere, studies have revealed that the use of social media can facilitate the release of oxytocin and that even thinking about someone who loves you or someone you deeply care for is enough to activate the release of oxytocin.
However, physical touch stimulates the most potent release of oxytocin. In his TED Talk, Dr. Zak prescribes at least 8 hugs per day to feel happier and more connected, as well as to nurture relationships. With all these positive physical and psychological benefits do yourself a favor—go hug someone!