Can a hug a day keep the doctor away? There’s plenty of evidence that the power of human touch like a hug, a pat on the shoulders, or holding hands does improve your physical and mental health!
It’s no wonder that people in our society are lonely, depressed and anxious. They are touch deprived. Especially in the United States, people minimize the importance of closeness and touch for adults because we’re raised to be independent, resilient and individualistic. It’s amazing how many people claim they don’t have anyone to hug or to get hugs from. Sadly, most people have not experienced good touch or platonic touch that doesn’t lead to a sexual encounter. So they’re afraid to be the person who reaches out with a touch or hug.
The science behind the power of human touch
Neuroscientist Edmund Rolls discovered that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Touch soothes cardiovascular stress. The skin contains encapsulated nerve endings called corpuscles and Merkel cells that register the pressure of each touch and sends a message to the brain, which then triggers a hormonal reaction. So a hug from a loved one reduces cortisol – the stress hormone, while releasing melatonin, serotonin and oxytocin – the feel good and love hormones.
To show how powerful human touch is studies show that a person can identify strong emotions like love, anger, gratitude, or fear just from a touch without even being able to see the other person!
Neuroscientist, psychologists, and researches have discovered fascinating things about the power of human touch. Here are some of their findings:
- Those who are touched are much more likely to cooperate and share with their partner.
- NBA basketball players who touch each other the most win the most games.
- Touch from a loved one calms the stress activity in the brain so perceived threats aren’t as scary.
- Preemie babies gain 47% more weight, have less pain and autoimmune disease symptoms after touch therapy than preemies who receive standard medical treatment.
- Touch helps Alzheimer’s patients to relax, make emotional connections, and reduce depression symptoms.
- Massage therapy reduces pain and prenatal depression in pregnant women.
- Eye contact and a pat on the back from the doctor boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.
- Students who receive friendly pats from the teacher are three times more likely to speak up in class.
- When librarians pat the hand of a student checking out a book, the student likes the library more and is more likely to come back.
- Autistic children, widely believed to hate being touched, respond well to being massaged by a parent or therapist.
- Touch lowers glucose levels in children with diabetes.
- Touch therapy improved immune systems in people with cancer.
- Patients who get a massage regularly heal faster, feel more comfortable and get greater pain relief as they are able to relax more fully.
- Cuddling your furry pet improves immune function, reduces blood pressure and eases the perception of pain.
As psychotherapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” No matter what our age, we need to be touched, whether it’s a hug, a back rub, a pat on the back, a squeeze of the shoulder or even a hand shake. Touch is fundamental to everything we think and feel, how we communicate and bond, and whether or not we catch a cold.
A word of caution, however – let the reaction of others guide how much you touch them. If someone has been physically abused, touching them without permission may increase their stress.
Somatic coaching and therapy is an excellent way to create subtle shifts in how you use your body to influence, listen, be resilient, manage stress, maintain energy and be more effective. Rather than numbing yourself to uncomfortable circumstances and powering through them, contact me to learn how to respond in a way that leaves you feeling whole and at peace.
Touch is just one of the indicators of a life well lived. Take the 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment to see how you’re doing. Click here to download your free copy. And don’t forget that January 21, 2016 is National Hugging Day. How many people will you hug?