A hug is much more than simply a gesture of love or affection; it’s also a release of hormones that can instantly change your mood. One major hormone that’s released is oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of pleasure and reduces anxiety and stress.
A recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed that both holding hands and hugging can significantly reduce stress. Fifty couples were asked to hold hands for 10 minutes, then hug for 20 seconds. A control group of 85 people were asked to just rest quietly, not touching their significant others. Researchers then asked people in both groups to discuss a past event that had made them angry or stressed. Those who hadn’t snuggled before talking about the past showed signs of elevated heart rate and blood pressure. However, couples who had hugged and held hands weren’t nearly as stressed. It’s believed that hugs stimulate nerve endings in the skin that tell the brain to relax. That in turn slows the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
And it’s not only hugs from significant others that calm the body; an embrace from a friend, or even a professional massage, can reduce stress. Research does show that the longer the hug, the more the relaxation—just pass this along when your friends wonder why the long hugs!