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The Power of Hugs

There’s nothing I love more than a great cuddle with my toddler son. Luckily, he’s too young to be embarrassed to be seen hugging his mother, and he frequently comes to me for a comforting hug or kiss. We all know that hugs feel good, but you may not know the science that explains why hugs are so beneficial. Here are four reasons why you should try hugging more often today: 

Hugs reduce the fear of mortality

In a study on fears and self-esteem, hugs and touch significantly reduced worries about mortality. The study found that hugging - even if it was just clutching a teddy bear - helps soothe peoples’ existential fears. “Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance,” lead researcher Sander Koole said. 

Hugs stimulate oxytocin

Known as the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts in the brain’s emotional center, providing feelings of contentment and reducing anxiety and strength. When oxytocin is released, it lowers both our heart rates and our cortisol levels (cortisol is known as “the stress hormone.”) It also stimulates the nurturing process when a mother gives birth to her child. In fact, the highest oxytocin levels ever recorded were in women who had just given birth - they had even more oxytocin in their systems than people who’d overdosed on oxytocin-containing drugs. 

Hugs lower your heart rate

Embracing someone may warm your heart, but according to one study it can be good medicine for your heart too - participants in the study who had no contact with their partners developed a faster heartbeat compared to those couples who got to hug their partners during the experiment.

Hugs stimulate dopamine

Dopamine is a very important hormone. Problems with dopamine can lead to serious depression and other mental illness. Low dopamine levels also play a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease. Even procrastination, self-doubt and lack of enthusiasm are linked to low levels of dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t just make us feel good, it also motivates us. Hugs stimulate the brain to release dopamine, making us feel better and more motivated. 

I don’t need any more reasons to hug my toddler (you should see him - it’s impossible not to want to hug him) but it’s nice to know that all our cuddling is good for his health and mine. I hope he stays a hugger for years to come and doesn’t become too cool to give his mom a hug - after all, there are scientific reasons why we should all embrace hugging!

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