Hug More – It can do Wonders for Your Brain!
Hugs are one of the most intimate ways people connect with each other. We hug each other to express a myriad range of emotions – joy, warmth, affection, empathy, compassion, and sorrow are just a few. But no matter what we may want to express – hugs always leave us feeling better. Ever wondered why?
That’s because, hugs have a profound effect on the way our brain behaves and functions. It is capable of altering several parameters of our brain and rewires it towards positivity and calmness, thereby, benefitting its functions in both short and long run.
It’s National Hugging Day in the US today, and we are celebrating the magic and power of hugs by telling you the ways they shape our brain and its functions.
Calming the Parasympathetic system
When we hug someone, the physical touch activates pressure receptors in our body and immediately starts sending signals to our Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve is the key element in our parasympathetic system which acts as a kind of safety valve when our brain or body is suddenly put under heightened stress or is overexcited. Hugs have the exact opposite effect. It makes the Vagus nerve relaxed, and this feeling is carried over all along your body through the nervous system. Your blood pressure drops, and you start feeling calm and secure.
Release of Happy Hormones
The next step is the unleashing of hormones. Hugs activate a number of chemicals in our body but most important of them are the neurotransmitters in our brain called Dopamine and Oxytocin. Dopamine is associated with concentration, motivation, and feelings of bliss and euphoria. Oxytocin, nicknamed the ‘cuddle hormone’, is associated with intimacy, bonding and affection. Hugs activate the release of these two, especially Oxytocin. The firmer and deeper the hug, the more oxytocin your body will release. Hence, the warm, fuzzy feeling you get with a good old hug is actually your brain getting doused in loads and loads of positivity!
Diminishing Stress and Anxiety
If you are feeling good already hugs will make you feel only better. But when you are feeling particularly down, hugs can actually have a deeper transformative effect on your brain and mood. Hugs can literally pull people out of deep negativity and unease. That is because hugs are a powerful way of decreasing your stress and anxiety. Stress is caused by increased amount of cortisol release in the bloodstream which heightens our sense of danger and fear. The Dopamine and Oxytocin released by a hug can dramatically bring down the levels of cortisol in your body, thereby pulling your brain out of the ‘danger-response’ mode and giving it relief.
With the calming hormones on a rise and danger-response hormones in downward mode, your brain and body experiences a sense of safety and security. This has a profound effect on our self-esteem, because self-esteem is built on the amount of security we feel in our own skin. Multiple studies have shown that children who received regular hugs and cuddle from parents or parental figures while growing up shows heightened signs of self-esteem than those who didn’t. The long term effect of engaging in regular hugs or human touch is better self-image, heightened social comfort and overall better mental health.
The immediate and long-term effects on your brains aside, hugs also have seemingly miraculous effects on your bodily health, like increased immunity and better heart health. Many experts believe, hugs are an essential part of being human and a lack of optimal amount of human touch can even mess with your chance of survival.
But in our increasingly technology-driven world, physical or even face-to-face contacts with our loved ones is diminishing. Some of us go days without touching anyone, let alone people we love, and that is harming us way more than we realize.
This National Hugging Day, let’s make it a point to visit our loved ones and give them a good, tight hug. That may make all the difference in the world!