Anastasia Christidou
Counseling & Gestalt Therapy

HUG your way to health


To clasp or hold closely, especially in the arms, as in affection; embrace.
An affectionate embrace [probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse huggato comfort]

The power of touch has intrigued researchers for decades. Studies show that touch has a beneficial effect on our perception of pain, treatment of medical conditions, and also emotional and physical well-being. Touch makes our stress hormones drop and it leads to a decreased perception of pain and a greater feeling of well-being. If the touch comes from a partner, a friend or a loved one, we have a greater sense of love and security. Touch is used as a therapeutic tool in several medical centers to comfort pain, depression and anxiety, even to boost people’s will to live, including premature babies.

Many years ago I saw a documentary about orphans of post Ceausescu Romania in the 1990’s and I was horrified. Thousands of children were living under terrible conditions in Romania’s huge state-run institutions. Those children were neglected and deprived of touch. Most of them were damaged in mind and body. Every institution employee was responsible for more than 20-30 children, there was no emotional bond and physical contact through touch or hugging with the children and the mortality rate was even as high as 50%.
Renee Spitz ‘s study (1946) and John Bowlby’s studies in the 1950’s showed that children need care and nurture to develop normally. Both researchers concluded that we need strokes such as hugs or physical touch as much as the air we breath, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy said that “We need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth”.
Some may find the number unrealistic and not applicable to our everyday busy and stressful lives. The core truth is:  hugs can benefit the brain, the heart, the immune and other body systems and also our emotional health.

Dr. Kathleen C. Light of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says that the people who get lots of hugs and other warm contact tend to have the highest levels of oxytocin.   A 20-second hug a day makes a big difference between how happy and relaxed we are. People in loving relationships show even higher levels of oxytocin when hugging.  Which is why people in healthy marriages, relationships and/or friendships are happier and feel less stressed. As human beings we are genetically programmed to form bonds, we need social contact and physical touch in order to be physically and emotionally healthy.

hug benefits for our physical health

  • decreases release of cortisol (stress hormone)
  • release of dopamine and oxytocin (bonding hormone)
  • lowers heart rates
  • lowers blood pressure
  • stimulates nerve ending
  • increases blood circulation

hug benefits for our emotional health

  • feels good
  • enjoyment being around other people
  • feeling accepted and understood
  • feeling compassion/compassionate
  • feeling more relaxed
  • overcoming fears
  • makes impossible days possible

It is essential to have permission before giving a hug. Sometimes your relationship with a person permits you to hug, other times you might receive a non-verbal or verbal message from someone that wants a hug. If you misread someone and gave a hug to person that didn’t want it, don’t sweat it. For some people hugging is hard, their difficulty might be part of their culture or previous experiences. Sometimes trust has to be built before a person feels safe enough to hug. Be respectful of the other person’s need for privacy and space.

People who hug more frequently tend to be more open about their feelings and connect easier to those around them. Hugs can bring a feeling of connection in your life. When you give hugs, you also receive. It ‘s ecologic, it ‘s portable and it ‘s free!
Now go and get your hugs for today!




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