What exactly do we know about the benefits of hugging? We know that hugging makes us feel protected, loved and connected with people. It can act as a stress-relief and it can also boost our confidence and general well-being. But do you know that hugging may also prevent us from getting ill? I'm sure your first thoughts are: ''What? Oh, come on, give me a break; how can this actually be possible?''. Well, according to researchers it is! Let's see why:
A 2015 research showed that hugging may prevent people from getting ill. More specifically, a number of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA examined the effects of social support and received hugs on the participants' susceptibility to developing the common cold, after they have been injected with a virus. Social support can be broadly defined as support which can be either emotional; for instance, through offering advice, psychological support, compassion, or through resources; such as helping a friend pay the rent or helping our child fix their* bike. The findings from the study led the researchers to conclude that people who had greater social support and received daily hugs were less likely to catch a cold. As the authors note, this is because hugging, as a means of conveying empathy, caring and reassurance, is an important contributor to the protective influence of perceived support against the pathogenic effects of stress.
In simple words, what this means, is that every time we experience stress, our immune system is weakened and that the positive feelings we experience from receiving social support, especially through physical touch, i.e. hugging, kissing, holding hands, could protect us from illnesses, such as the common cold and the flu. These data are consistent with other studies that showed that physical contact reduces the effect of stress on biological markers thought to be precursors of illness. Moreover, the same lead researcher in an earlier study showed that the more diverse social ties a person has, such as ties with family, friends, colleagues and the community, the less susceptible to getting ill is.
This finding becomes particularly important if we take into account that today's children consistently report having many stressors in their daily lives, including homework, peer pressure, receiving poor grades, fear of bullying and isolation. If we add to all these the fact that a lot of parents don't get to have enough physical contact with their children as a result of working long hours -in many cases away from home- then this research makes a potentially staggering statement parents might as well carefully think about. Why? Because just like adults, so do children need to have coping strategies. Such defence mechanisms could help them deal with everyday stress that could weaken their immune system, thus making them more vulnerable to colds. Hugging could be one of those coping strategies or defence mechanisms, if you like.
Putting the finishing touch, my suggestion would be: Why not make hugging a daily routine family activity and save ourselves from the trouble of visiting the doctor every month? Let's all start right now!
*Note: Singular 'their' is used here to refer to a single person, whose gender is unknown.