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Have you Hugged or Been Hugged Today?

hug me

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything other than book reviews and my culinary experiences so I thought it was time I wrote about something else. This one’s been on my list a long time…

As a person I been prone to palpitations and mild panic attacks for as long as I can remember. Of course I’m not a doctor so it actually may not be palpitations or panic attacks. What I feel when these episodes happen though is a wildly beating heart, breathlessness, sweating and extreme discomfort. It’s most likely to happen just after I’ve had an encounter with a cockroach. I am terrified of these creatures, no other creepy crawly does this to me. 

Back when I lived with Mom and Dad, they came to the rescue and helped me regain my composure with lots of hugs and love. Then when I lived alone for a few years a shot of brandy or rum did the trick. All friends know just how petrified I am of roaches, and they usually jump in to help but they can’t always be there and over the years I’ve learned to deal with roaches the best I can but the after effects haven’t gone away and I try to deal with them too.

These episodes don’t just happen because of roaches, sometimes it’s when I’m really hurt or upset. Controlling emotions becomes tough, the tears start and then the breathlessness et all. Over the years I’ve noticed that hugs helped, they calmed me down faster and I got back control quicker, but I never really knew that there was a medical reason to this. Recently while watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, one of the doctors explained it in these words as she was getting a much needed squeeze – “Cows are squeezed tightly in a chute before they are slaughtered. The chute applies intense pressure resulting in decreased pluse rate, metabolic rate and muscle tone. It calms them down. Hugging relaxes the sympathetic nervous system, slows the heart, calms you down.”

That got me reading, I wanted to know more about it and if there were other ways to replicate a hug without needing another human being. 

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say – “A hug is a near universal form of physical intimacy, in which two people put their arms around the neck, back, or waist of one another and hold each other closely. Hugging has been proven to have health benefits. One study has shown that hugs increase levels of oxytocin, and reduce blood pressure.’

Reading further I found that Hugging or being hugged by someone you trust releases the hormone oxytocin into the bloodstream. Oxytocin helps reduce stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and is even supposed to improve memory! The hormone oxytocin, produced by the pituitary gland is known to increase bonding, and closeness between people. An excellent example are mothers who produce oxytocin during childbirth and breastfeeding as it increases their bond with the child. Of course hugging only works between people who trust each other, and mutually want to hug; with strangers or people who make you uncomfortable the stress hormone cortisone is produced, and hence the positive effects of a hug are lost.

Recently at CeBIT, a high-tech fair in Germany a Singapore based firm unveiled their ‘cuddle jacket’. The jacket simulates the feeling of a cuddle by inflating small air bubbles in the normal looking fleece. The jacket can be controlled by a smartphone and the type of cuddle can varied between light pressure and a bear hug. Trials have shown it is immensely helpful with children who have learning disabilities. An autistic child who gets distraught by loud noises and new faces can be calmed down faster with the soothing effects of the jacket. James Teh the founder of the company hopes to make the jacket more widely available soon not only for children with learning disabilities but also adults who want a good hug from time to time. He definitely has one buyer in me. :) 

Marcus Julian Felicetti a Yoga Therapist lists out 10 Reasons for why we need more than 8 hugs everyday. He says hugs build trust and a sense of safely. They remove feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger and help with open and honest communication. Extended hugs elevate mood and create happiness by lifting serotonin levels.  Hugs strengthen the immune system, boost self-esteem, and relax muscles. They teach us how to give and receive. In his words ‘Hugging therapy is definitely a powerful way of healing.”  

On December 1, 2004 Juan Mann started what we all know as the Free Hugs Campaign.  He stood in the PittStreet Mall in central Sydney with a board that read Free Hugs. He had gone though some difficult times and was rather depressed and lonely. A hug from a stranger at a party had made him feel enormously better and he wanted to pass on the feeling. Initially people were distrustful and he stood there for 15 minutes before an elderly lady walked up to him for a hug. Gradually people started to come up to him for free hugs. Today the first Saturday following June 30 each year is celebrated as Free Hugs Day in remembrance of the first day Juan offered free hugs in Sydney in 2004. International Free Hugs Month is celebrated on the first Saturday of July and continues until August first.  

Apparently hugs aren’t the only things that make us feel better, a good cuddle with the one you love increases the bond in your relationship and increases your chances of sticking it out together. Then there are also the benefits of kisses and sex 😀

So, have you hugged someone today?

Photo Credit: Jo Marshall, on Flickr

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