“Like diet and exercise, you need a steady daily dose of hugging.” — Dr Tiffany Field
We all appreciate a good, long hug when it comes from the right people. And that’s because a good squeeze releases oxytocin in our bodies — what scientists aptly dub the “cuddle hormone” because of its role in childbirth and orgasms. Because it is also a neurotransmitter, oxytocin impacts our emotional, cognitive, and social behaviours — helping us cope with highly emotional situations, building up our immunity to infections, and reducing stress and blood pressure in both the giver and receiver. Oxytocin is the cool friend we send over to the amygdala — the part of the brain that controls the freak-out like fear, anxiety, and aggression — and calms us right down, even before a conflict develops.
All this to say: hugging is good for all ages. And as we get older, we probably don’t get enough cuddles.
Family therapist and psychologist Virginia Satir claims we all need “4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance, and 12 hugs a day for growth.” That’s a lot of hugs, and some of us are lucky if we even get one a day. Thankfully, the benefits of hugging aren’t gained just between humans; hugging a pet or a huge cuddly toy achieves the good as well. And even a weighted blanket, simulating a warm hug in bed, has been shown to reduce insomnia.
Finally — remember to make it long and heartfelt. According to a study at the University of North Carolina, the ideal length of time is a good 20 seconds. So hug long and prosper.