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Embracing Humanity

The importance of a hug cannot be underestimated. For years leading up to 2020, we took the act of hugging someone for granted. In March 2020, human beings the world over began separating from each other as each person retreated away from human touch and adapted to the recommendation of staying socially distant while moving about society.

We now live in a world with less hugging. This saddens me.

Hugging provides so many benefits to people and I felt that this subject needed some attention so we don't forget the importance of hugs for humans.

It's now, once again, the holiday season, 2021. Family and friends are using air travel once again to reunite with those close to them. At the airport, when we find ourselves bidding farewell, words fail us when when know that our loved one is about to walk away from us through the security check-point and fly off.

In most cases, the powerful communication between them is a hug.

Everyone knows that a hug can be tremendously comforting at the airport when it's time to say farewell, or in other situations in which we experience intense emotions, such as grief or fear. But hugs are also an important part of many positive, everyday situations as well. Don't forget, there are lots of joyful, "so happy to see you" hugs happening out there, too.

Hugs play an enormous role in all sorts of situations that encompass emotions towards another person. If we care for someone, we hug them, and research has shown that hugging can release large quantities of oxytocin.

We hug because it literally deepens our relationship with that person on a biochemical level.

Brotherly Love 1

These two pictures inspired this blog-post. Image entitled Brotherly Love 1 is the beginning of an embrace. Here, I clearly see joy on the face of the younger brother as he moves in for a hug with his older brother who displays his confident, proud smile as he's more than happy to oblige.

But it is this moment snapped in Brotherly Love 2 that makes us melt. This professional photographer, who happens to be their mother, Helene Cyr, captured that deep, biochemical bond between them.

Brotherly Love 2

Hugging makes us feel good, no doubt. When we are sad or disappointed, a big warm cuddle can alleviate some of the pain. When we are happy, we want to share the joy by giving others a hug. But there are other benefits besides feeling warm and fuzzy. Turns out there is some important scientific research out there that explain why hugs are good for human beings.

Brain growth.

In orphanages in Eastern Europe, sadly the infants are rarely handled or touched. They often spend as many as 23 hours of each day in their cribs. Bottles for feeding are usually propped to feed them automatically and with minimal human interaction the overall care is designed to be an automated routine. It is no wonder that these children usually face issues including delayed motor skills development​ and impaired cognitive development​.

Genetic Psychology Monographs, published a study indicating that researchers found that institutionalized infants who received hugs for an additional twenty minutes of stimulation where they received human touch per day for ten weeks scored higher in developmental assessments than those who did not​. Most compelling in this research was that they discovered that not all types of touch deemed beneficial. It was unveiled that a the power of a nurturing gentle hug offers the infant the kind of positive stimulation that a young brain needs to grow.

Lower blood pressure.

As I move through the early part of my fifth decade here on Earth, I find myself more intrigued by research and information around Cardiovascular activity and health practices.

Heart disease runs in my family and as we all know Cardiovascular diseases are among the leading causes of death in the United States as well as and in many other countries with high blood pressure showing as a major risk factor.

In a 2005 study published in the scientific journal Biological Psychology (Light et al., 2005) 59 women between 20 and 49 years of age were the control group for this research.

They were invited to the lab with their long-term partners and upon arrival, they were separated from their partners for thirty minutes. Partners joined them again for ten minutes on a loveseat and were encouraged to hold hands as they watched a romantic video. At the end, they were instructed to hug each other for twenty seconds just before their partners left the room.

Now, without their partners, the women had to participate in a test that involved giving a speech about an event that made them stressed. Before, during, and after this stress test, oxytocin, was measured. Also, these women had several blood pressure measurements taken and had to fill out a questionnaire about the frequency of hugging their partners.

Note: Oxytocin is the human pair bonding hormone.

The results

More frequent hugs were related to higher oxytocin levels and lower baseline blood pressure. Thus, it was determined that frequent hugging from our partner enhances our bond to them and improves our cardiovascular health. So, subsequently, hugging reduces the risk of heart disease.

Stronger Immune System

In a 2015 study published in the scientific journal Psychological Science (Cohen et al., 2015). The relationship of hugging, social support, and the likelihood of getting sick in 404 volunteers from the Pittsburgh area was tested and investigated in a research study.

At the beginning of the study, the volunteers were called every evening for two weeks and asked about their social relationships and whether or not they had been hugged that day. On average, participants reported that they received hugs on 68% of days, and it was evident that those individuals who had been hugged more also felt like they received greater social support.

Here's the interesting part: After the phone interviews had been completed, the volunteers were then invited to a local hotel where they all stayed in separate rooms isolated on one floor and they were quarantined. Nasal drops containing a virus that caused the common-cold were administered by the test researchers and overall, 78% of the participants got infected with the virus.

The results

How often somebody had been hugged clearly influenced the risk of infection. Those who had more hugs not only had a decreased risk of infection this group also had less severe symptoms, e.g., their noses were less stuffy. In conclusion, the researchers showed that hugging is a truly effective way to reduce stress and the risk of getting sick by conveying social support to one another. Again, something biochemical happens when we hug and our immune system strengthens.

Isn't it ironic that we've been told to remain six feet away from each other in order to remain healthy when research shows that a simple hug might actually be the thing that actually keeps you on the road to good health after all. ❤️


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