How often do you feel better after a hug from your mom or husband or child? If your day isn’t going just as planned, don’t you enjoy the moment when someone you know and love gives you a full-bodied hug?
Just the other night, my son came up to me out of the blue and gave me the best full-bodied, strong, squeezing hug. My response, while a bit surprised, was to squeeze back and tell him what a great hug that was! I felt so much better once he turned away. I realized I was smiling both outside and inside. Not only had I loved the impromptu encounter from my teenage son, but his affection had also left me with a feeling of warmth and quiet in my body.
Research gathered by Dr. Paul Zak shows that the human brain produces oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that acts like a hormone, and releases it in the body when we feel safe and secure. This chemical tells our brain that “everything is all right.” Dr. Zak has determined that the brain produces and releases the majority of this chemical during activities like breast-feeding, hugging, snuggling, holding hands, partner dancing, having bodywork and massage, and during prayer.
Physical touch can be so soothing to many and can even calm anxiety. When babies cry, don’t we pat them on the back to calm them down? And if someone is upset or depressed isn’t our first reaction to reach out and touch their shoulder or to hug them tight and say something about “things will be alright”? I know that whenever I visit relatives or friends, I consistently greet each member with a full hug and do the same when it is time to leave.
Dr. Zak’s determined that physical touch stimulates the most potent release of oxytocin. To further this research, Guastella and Colleagues conducted a study on volunteers and the role of oxytocin in recalling faces. Their research found that people who received boosts of oxytocin were more likely to remember and recall happy faces over angry or neutral facial expressions, thus lending to the “everything is all right” emotion that hugs can leave an individual feeling. Which honestly makes so much sense! Don’t you feel better encountering a smiling happy face then an angry or neutral expression? I certainly do.
So the next time someone says they feel “warm and fuzzy” inside, it could be the effects of a good hug they are truly feeling. So do yourself a favor whenever you are feeling low and unsure about a situation, and go hug someone! Dr. Zak prescribes at least eight hugs a day to feel happier and more content. Luckily, this is one prescription that is ok to become addicted to!