This week, systemic coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister and NLP Master Practitioner James Pereira QC discuss the benefits of physical touch and hugging.

The renaissance artist Michelangelo is quoted as saying “To touch is to give life.” Touching is a part of normal, healthy social intercourse, whether it involves the intimate caress of a loved one, or the formal handshake of a work colleague.

Zita Tulyahikayo

In fact, the benefits of touch are evident from an early age. Research has found that premature babies that receive regular, daily touch therapy gain far more weight on average than those who receive only conventional medical care. Studies on orphans growing up in institutions in communist Romania found that the sensory deprivation associated with institutional care caused sustained, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and an inability to form close intimate relationships as adults.

While of course appropriate boundaries must always be maintained – inappropriate and or uninvited physical contact is never justified – physical touch is necessary to maintain and improve wellbeing, and one of the most effective forms of physical contact is the hug. Here are some reasons why.

Hug for happiness

Hugging makes us feel happier. It stimulates the pituitary gland to release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that acts on the brain’s limbic system (the emotional centre), and creates feelings of contentment, lowers the heart rate, and reduces anxiety and stress. Hugs also stimulate the production of the pleasure hormone dopamine, and the release of endorphins and serotonin, all of which are associated with feelings of pleasure. Put simply, hugs make us feel good.

Hug for health

Hugging has been shown to have a measureable effect in reducing our susceptibility to illness and infectious disease. A study carried out by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who had received regular hugs were less likely to become infected with the common cold compared to a control group, and those who were infected were more likely to display milder symptoms.

James Pereira QC

More recent work carried out by Oxford University found that huddling behavior among red-bellied lemurs was associated with improved gut flora, which in turn helped boost the immune system in these primates. The authors reason that social contact, stress physiology and the gut biome are all closely related. In addition, hugging can activate the Solar Plexus Chakra, which stimulates the hypothalamus gland. This is responsible for regulating the white blood cells in our body, which help fight disease. So hugging is good for your health.

Hug for self-love

Hugging promotes self-love and self-esteem. The act of hugging requires us to pause and acknowledge the other, which in turn helps support feelings of self-worth in that other person. These associations are developed early on in life through the touch of parents and family when we are children, and our body continues to associate these tactile sensations with feelings of support and love. In this way the physical support from a hug literally translates into a sense of emotional support within ourselves.

Get your daily hug

So next time you feel run down or under the weather – reach out for a hug. Or better still, don’t wait until feel like you need a boost – build hugging into your daily routine to support your wellbeing.

As the esteemed, trail-blazing psychotherapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” The more, the merrier.

The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles. You can reach them at @LifeTherapyZita and @JamesPereiraQC.