The best way to support a loved one in the new year: a hug


New York Times

Importance of hugging, photo courtesy of New York Times

The best gift to give in 2022 is not a new toy or electronic device. This gift is, not tangible and cannot be wrapped, but it is the most meaningful and beneficial. The best gift to give during the new year is a hug. A simple pleasure that has been taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once hugging was a typical ritual in expressing affection through physical contact, however, the new norm is not to hug. Over the past year and a half, preventing the spread of COVID-19 through limited physical contact is how love has been shown. Now, with vaccines and boosters available, the reintroduction of physical contact has begun. Not only are hugs a way to express love and affection, but there are also many health and social benefits to hugging. Hugging is the best way to support a loved one into the new year.

Psychologist Joe Rock, PsyD says, “The health benefits of giving and receiving hugs are quite impressive. Hugs have a therapeutic effect on people,” Hugging can improve sleep, increase pleasure and well-being, reduce stress, and may also prevent infections. These benefits are due to the stimulation of the c-tactile nerve. According to the Journal of Neuroscience,“CT afferents are tuned to respond to tactile stimuli with the specific characteristics of a gentle caress delivered at typical skin temperature. This provides a peripheral mechanism for signaling pleasant skin-to-skin contact in humans, which promotes interpersonal touch and affiliative behavior,”. This nerve stimulation releases a variety of neurochemicals, such as endorphins, that are the body’s “natural pain killers,” giving the body a rewarding sensation during and after a hug.

The benefits of hugging are first seen while in the womb and as an infant. Skin temperature contact between a mother and child produces higher oxytocin levels, a “feel good” chemical, thus limiting cortisol levels. The reduction of cortisol levels, a stress hormone, reduces stress and anxiety from infancy. Reduction of stress and anxiety boosts the body’s immune system to prevent and fight infections, as well as regulate sleep.

However, regularly receiving skin temperature touch is necessary for maintaining these mental and physical health benefits. Safe ways to promote hugging as the pandemic ends are petting and spending time with a pet, hugging a loved one in your household, and masking up before close physical contact. Although COVID-19 has affected the way we express affection, it is still vital to human well-being to remain connected through touch.