It’s Valentine’s Day! A day all about appreciating the ones we love, which can include giving gifts, having special meals, and spending time together. But none of those would mean as much without a big ol' hug!
Hugs from loved ones and friends make us feel good - we feel more connected and supported. But the benefits don’t stop there.
Science tells us that hugs can actually make us healthier.
For example, hugs make us less stressed. Now, we think of stress as a bad thing, but evolutionarily it’s really quite ingenious. The hormones released during stress help us to be at our peak in fight or flight situations, like running from a lion (back in the old days). Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, muscles get energized, and you even think more clearly.
Most of us aren't trying to escape from lions nowadays. Today stress is more likely to be the day to day worries we carry around with us.
Neurologist Robert Sapolsky says, "For 99 percent of the beasts on this planet, stress is about three minutes of screaming in terror after which it’s either over with or you’re over with. And we turn it on for 30-year mortgages.”
The effects of having our bodies bathed in stress hormones long term are devastating. Along with increased heart rates and prolonged high blood pressure, other nonessential systems get turned off, like your digestion, growth, and notably, your immune system.
When your body is always in high gear, the risks go up for diabetes, digestion issues, heart problems, and susceptibility to illness.
The challenge is to find ways to turn off those stress signals and give our bodies a break. Valentine’s Day is a chance to try out one of the best ways – hugging.
Turns out hugs reduce stress both directly, and psychologically. The benefit of hugs may seem obvious on an emotional level, but let's take a look at the science too: