Hugs are a particularly intimate and intense way of expressing emotions. Through a hug we can convey joy or pain, we can tell a person that they can count on us unconditionally and understand their mental state without speaking. But the fact is that hugs not only help us connect with others and express what we feel, but they also have a very positive effect on emotional balance and brain health.
What happens when someone hugs us?
When someone hugs us, physical contact activates the pressure receptors on our skin, which are also known as Pacini corpuscles, and they respond primarily to deep pressure. These receptors immediately send signals to the vagus nerve.
At that point, we start to feel good because that nerve is connected to nerve fibers that reach different cranial nerves and play an important role in regulating most key functions in the body, including blood pressure. Therefore, as a result of a hug and stimulation of the vagus nerve, the heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Actually, the vagus nerve plays an important role in the parasympathetic system, which acts as a kind of handbrake when we are under stress or overexcited.
Another important change takes place directly in the brain. A hug stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter known as the "pleasure hormone" because it creates a sense of satisfaction that relieves stress and tension. It is also appreciated that a simple hug increases the production of oxytocin, known as the "love hormone", which allows us to connect emotionally with others and trust them.
And the most important fact is that the effects of a hug are immediate. With different experiments that were carried out around the world, it was found that there were many more situations that activated the production of this hormone. For example, a 5-second hug was found to stimulate her; but a 20 second one activates it and is equivalent to a month of therapy.
A study conducted at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto organized a conversation of approximately 15 minutes between some people and their partners. Afterwards, some of them received a hug and others did not. When evaluating the physiological parameters, the researchers appreciated that those who received the hug showed a significant reduction in the level of cortisol in the blood, the stress hormone that causes so much damage.
Hugs help us feel good about ourselves
A loving hug or caress was found to affect the brain's ability to imagine the body, even in adults. This type of physical contact is also essential to develop and maintain a proper perception of our body.
According to a study carried out at the University College of London, the key is in the fact that this type of body contact offers pleasant tactile sensations that generate a series of proprioceptive signals that help us feel our body better.
Emotional well-being is not the only positive consequence of the secretion of this hormone. It also has a decisive impact on physical well-being, helping you to get sick less and heal faster, in case something affects you. Strengthens the immune system and improves the functioning of your heart. It is a little chemical prodigy that enriches your life.
In practice, a touch or a hug does not only send the proprioceptive signals to our brain that allow us to be more aware of our bodies, but also that we can feel that we are worthy of being loved. And these feelings make us feel very good.
In fact, according to these researchers, the lack of hugs and caresses could be a trigger or aggravating factor for body image disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
More facts about oxytocin, the cuddle hormone
- The cuddle hormone is produced in the pituitary gland. It is regulated by the cells of the hypothalamus, which in turn affects all the glands of the body. As someone who says: it has to do with the whole body.
- When oxytocin is produced, it appears in the blood. If that happens, the amygdala triggers a series of reactions that result in a more generous and calm behavior.
- In 1998 it was discovered that autistic children have lower levels of oxytocin.In 2003, an experiment was conducted in which this hormone was administered intravenously and a decrease in automated behaviors was observed in these children.
- Oxytocin is an excellent antidote to social fears and phobias.In other words: if you are in a social situation that causes you fear, probably a hug from someone close to you at that moment will comfort you.
- Hugs help reduce sadness and improve blood pressure function. On the other hand, kisses have an effect similar to that of a painkiller, but they also help burn calories and reduce wrinkles.
- The cuddle hormone also contributes to the production of more serotonin and dopamine. In more common words, it reduces stress and helps you have a more positive attitude towards life.
How many hugs do we need every day?
We could actually live without hugs, but it would be like dying slowly, a little bit each day. About this, family therapist Virginia Satir said, "We need four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs to stay where we are, and 12 hugs to grow."
In fact, during a study by UCLA researchers, participants' brains were scanned while they were subjected to electric shocks. Their partners accompanied them during the test and, in some cases, were allowed to hold hands. Therefore, it was found that physical contact was helping to cope with the stress of the experience and that in these cases the areas of the brain responsible for mitigating fear were activated.
These studies show that hugs have a very powerful effect on our brains and help us achieve a state of relaxation and comfort, while allowing us to better deal with stress and fear. So even if it's not 8 hugs, you still need to guarantee yourself a daily dose of hugs.
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