Need a hug? When you’re feeling sad or upset, one of the most common responses is to want to be comforted, and in many cases that means some sort of physical contact. Whether it be a hug, someone holding your hand, rubbing your back or even a kiss, skin on skin contact is typically a comforting feeling for people who are under distress.
Physical contact has been known to relax the body and actually shows physiological changes when in a hyperactive state. “If someone [you trust] holds your hand or hugs you or gives you a back massage before you have a stressful task like giving a speech, your heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers, and your stress hormones will decrease,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. “There’s also an increase in oxytocin, which is the love hormone that contributes to relaxation in couples.” When that special someone touches you, your brain responds with signals to the body that say you are safe.
Physical touch is a very powerful thing and is something we are born to do. Touching is innate and we see it from the minute a baby is born when the only thing that can calm him/her from a crying fit is the soothing touch of the mom. Being touched, especially by someone you care about, will create a sense of security and tell your brain that you are OK, hence why hugs are a good way to calm someone down. The feeling of arms being wrapped around you can actually release any tension you may feel when stressed, upset or panicked.
With this, skin on skin contact has actually shown to improve your health. When you are stressed out it is more difficult to fight off disease as higher levels of cortisol are running through your body which makes it more difficult for your immune system to perform at its peak functioning and keep you healthy. Being touched helps with that as the physical contact signals your brain to lower those levels and in turn, allows your immune system to get to work. So in other words, a hug could just be the thing to cure you from that nasty head cold.
De-stressing in general is known to be good for your health as stress is typically correlated with cardiac arrest, heart arrhythmias and high blood pressure. Knowing what physical contact can do to help relieve stress in the body, it’s generally connected to the idea that physical contact can actually prolong your life by reducing the chances of these types of health complications. Now a hug won’t guarantee the absence of any heart or health complications, but it can very well help along the way.
Health and self-care are an important part of an individual’s life, and it is crucial to find what works best for you. Everyone handles life differently. Some people take their stress out at the gym, others may calm themselves down with a hot cup of tea. No matter what method of de-stress and healthy-living you may choose to live by, try and remember to find that source of physical contact because it could be just the thing you need.
So if you’re feeling stressed, try hugging your parents, holding your friend’s hand, or kissing your significant other and you might find that tension going away.