The power of a single hug
A recent study of about 400 people, published in the online journal PLOS ONE, found that hugs helped improve any negative effects caused by conflict. Receiving even one hug was linked with a smaller decrease in positive emotions and a smaller increase in negative emotions.
Previous studies have found similar results about the power of hugs, but this was the first study that did not focus on romantic or family relationships. Many of the hugs, therefore, came from others–such as friends and colleagues–but were still just as effective.
“We were not surprised to find that people who reported receiving a hug appeared to be protected against poorer moods related to experiencing conflict,” reported lead study author Michael Murphy of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The findings were the same for men and women, though women experienced more conflict and received more hugs over the course of the two-week study.
Receiving gentle touches from someone we love and trust releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin in our brains, hormones that help to modulate fear and anxiety, and encourage social attachment. Touch also communicates empathy and can have a painkilling effect.
The benefits of caring touch go even further: it can reduce stress and strengthen the immune system.
The importance of having people around you
Of course, receiving a hug requires being face-to-face with someone. These days, when so much of our work can be done remotely, it is still important for us to cultivate positive relationships with people around us. Having people physically near us can help us be healthier and happier–which helps us to better manage and bounce back from conflict and stress.
The lack of touch can have a corresponding effect. Loneliness, in addition to its obvious implications for mental health, also leads to increased illness and a 50 percent increased risk of early death. A review of more than 200 studies found that loneliness is deadlier than obesity and should be considered a major public health hazard.
So if you’ve had a hard day, ask a trusted colleague or loved one for a hug. Even if you haven’t had a hard day, you can offer a hug to someone in your life.
This kind of moral support, in the form of gentle physical touch, can make all the difference in our workplaces and homes. And because having close relationships has also been linked with longevity, we may even live longer when we reach out to each other and show that we care.