The Unexpected Mental Health Benefits of Hugging

It used to be that you could hug a friend, a close colleague, or a loved one without a second thought. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything changed, including our collective mindset about physical touch. In the height of quarantine, most of us felt our sense of happiness decline as we went weeks or even months without enjoying the benefits of hugging. And even when we started to relax our most stringent social distancing measures, many of us were hesitant to offer hugs to people outside our immediate households, at least at first. Thankfully, now that we have great vaccines and therapeutics and a better understanding of the virus, we can begin to get back to hugging, shaking hands, and giving high fives.

Hugs feel great, but did you know they’re actually good for you, too? Today, we’ll talk about the many wonderful mental health benefits of hugging your loved ones every day. We’re all looking to be healthier, happier, and more connected, and physical touch is a free and easy way to help achieve those things. Never underestimate the incredible power of a hug!

The Benefits of Hugging: Better Mental Health and More

What is it about a good, strong hug that instantly improves your day? For starters, it can stimulate the release of the hormone oxytocin (sometimes called the “love” hormone). This leads to greater social bonding, lowered heart rate, and decreased levels of stress and anxiety. Hugging can help increase our sense of happiness and well-being, improve the quality of our sleep, and even give our immune systems a boost. It may even help to protect your heart health. And don’t forget, when you give someone a hug, they’re enjoying all these benefits too.

Health Benefits of Hugs ︱ Cleveland Clinic

Before COVID-19 made everything complicated, many of us took hugs and other physical touches for granted. When we were isolated at home during the first few months of the pandemic, the lack of physical contact with our loved ones was depressing, isolating, and—for some—heartbreaking. As a society, our collective mental health suffered greatly during the strictest quarantine period. Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates that anxiety and depression increased by a staggering 25% in the global population during the first year of the pandemic.

We can’t attribute all of that to a lack of hugs, of course. Loneliness, fear of the virus, job loss, financial insecurity, and the illness or death of loved ones all were major factors in this worldwide mental health crisis. But the sudden dearth of intimate physical contact certainly didn’t make things better. Many of us didn’t realize just how important hugs were to our health and happiness until dire circumstances forced us to do without them.

The Power of Physical Touch Post-COVID

I don’t know about you, but even as COVID-19 has become less threatening, I’m still not quite as quick to hug as I used to be. Even when I’m feeling confident I’m not sick, it’s hard to be sure if other people are comfortable receiving a hug. Do they have any underlying health issues that make them more likely to become seriously ill if they contract COVID-19? Are they caring for an elderly or vulnerable friend or relative? Do they have an important event coming up that they’d have to miss if they tested positive?

Give (and Get!) a Healing Hug Today

So, how many hugs do we need in a day to be happy and healthy? Experts recommend we get anywhere from four to twelve hugs every day, though of course there’s no upper limit to how much physical touch you can receive. (If you’re feeling “touched out,” of course, it’s time to take a short break!) Remember that every time you hug someone, you’re doing something good for yourself and for them. You’re reaping all the physical and mental health benefits of hugging and giving them back to the person in your arms. If you’ve ever wished you could do more for someone in your life who suffers from depression or anxiety, don’t sell yourself short. Providing regular hugs is one way to show your support and help that person to feel more relaxed and content. No, you won’t solve this person’s problems with one bear hug, but you’ll certainly do something to improve their mood each time you open your arms. Small gestures like this can add up to make a real difference.

If you’re craving physical touch and aren’t able to connect with a friend or family member in the near future, you can give yourself a hug. Try snuggling up under a weighted blanket, caring for a houseplant, or petting a cute animal. Wrap your arms around a body pillow or cuddly stuffed animal for comfort when you’re on your own. It might feel silly, but there’s a reason little kids love hugging plush toys—they’re comforting and soft. Nobody’s looking; you can spoon that adorable teddy bear or bunny to your heart’s content.

Happy friends holding each other
Hugging is one way to show your support and help to a person (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Hugs feel great, they’re good for you, and they increase the bond you share with the person you’re hugging. They’re a free and easy way to improve your mood, lower your pulse, and maybe even stave off major health problems. The next time you open your arms to a friend or a loved one, remember just how powerful a simple hug can be!