Why do we need 12 hugs a day?

Hugs are an essential part of the human experience. They make us feel connected, loved, and supported. But why exactly do we need 12 hugs a day? Let’s explore the science behind why human touch in the form of hugs is so vital for our health and happiness.

What happens in our bodies when we hug?

Hugs cause a chemical reaction in our bodies that can have profound effects on our physical and mental health. When we engage in positive physical touch like hugging, our bodies release oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals boost our mood, strengthen our relationships, and support our overall wellbeing.

Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” plays a particularly important role. It is released in our brains and throughout our bodies during social bonding behaviors like hugging. Oxytocin helps us feel more connected, empathetic, loving, generous, and trusting. It also reduces blood pressure, improves wound healing, and eases pain.

Dopamine, our body’s feel-good neurotransmitter, is also released when we hug. Dopamine activates the pleasure centers in our brains, making us feel happier and more relaxed after a warm embrace.

Finally, serotonin levels increase with hugging too. Sometimes called the “happy chemical,” serotonin regulates mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and more. Boosting our serotonin through regular hugs can help improve mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

How many hugs do we need each day?

How many hugs should we aim to get daily in order to reap these chemical benefits? Research points to 12 hugs a day as the magic number for optimum physical and emotional health.

Psychotherapist Virginia Satir is largely credited as the first person to propose 12 as the minimum daily hug requirement. Satir emphasized the importance of hugs and human connection. She believed 12 daily embraces filled our “hug quota” and fulfilled our basic need for bonding touch.

Clinical and medical research over the decades has backed up Satir’s hug prescription. For example, a 2015 study found that participants who hugged their partners multiple times per day had lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn’t. The frequent huggers also had fewer symptoms of illness.

Another study revealed that hugging for just 20 seconds causes oxytocin levels to spike in both women and men. Hugs that last between 20-30 seconds offer the optimal boost in oxytocin.

Based on this evidence, experts recommend aiming for at least 4-6 quality hugs per day minimum. More frequent shorter hugs are ideal for regularly stimulating oxytocin and dopamine release.

The top 10 benefits of 12 daily hugs

Why exactly is hitting that quota of a dozen daily hugs so beneficial? Let’s explore the top payoffs linked to reaching this hug goal:

1. Strengthens the immune system

Regular hugging may help you avoid getting sick. The oxytocin released in the brain and throughout the body during hugs has anti-inflammatory properties. This helps our immune system function properly and ward off illnesses.

2. Lowers heart disease risk

The spike in oxytocin from frequent hugs also helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, this can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Women who engage in frequent hugs with partners especially benefit.

3. Fights depression

The myriad of feel-good chemicals released with regular hugging help boost mood and support mental health. The dopamine and serotonin particularly play key roles in alleviating depression. Daily hugs can be as effective at improving mood as antidepressant medications for some individuals.

4. Reduces stress

Cortisol, our body’s primary stress hormone, decreases as oxytocin increases thanks to hugs. Lower levels of cortisol help us feel calmer and more relaxed. Hugging also activates our parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation.

5. Strengthens relationships

The oxytocin released when we hug reinforces bonding and affection in our relationships. It elicits feelings of contentment, trust, and security with our loved ones. Frequent hugs lead to stronger, healthier relationships overall.

6. Supports emotional wellbeing

Getting regular hugs reduces feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and depression. The mood-boosting chemicals released help us feel happier and more positive day-to-day. This boost in our emotional wellbeing from hugs can’t be understated.

7. Improves self-esteem

The acceptance and affection communicated through hugs helps reinforce our self-worth. Human touch is food for our souls. Getting frequent hugs reminds us that we are valued and boosts our confidence and self-esteem.

8. Balances nervous system

Hugs release oxytocin in the brain and through the bloodstream. This oxytocin helps calm the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for our “fight or flight” stress response. Hugs also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation.

9. Alleviates pain

The mild pressure on the body from a hug triggers the release of oxytocin. This oxytocin then acts on pain receptors in the body. As a result, hugging can help temporarily alleviate pain from headaches, arthritis, menstrual cramps, and more.

10. Deepens connection

There’s no replacement for the sense of warmth, safety, and emotional closeness we feel from an embrace. It’s the most basic yet profound way that we bond and connect with other humans. Regular hugs reinforce our social bonds.

Tips for getting your 12 daily hugs

Getting a dozen hugs each day might sound difficult if you live alone or aren’t naturally physically affectionate. But there are many simple ways to work more hugs into your daily life:

  • Give friends and family members a quick hug hello and goodbye when you see them.
  • Ask your significant other for a few extra embraces before bed or during TV commercial breaks.
  • Greet your kids after school or periodically throughout the day with a big hug.
  • Keep hugs brief but meaningful. Aim for 20-30 second tight squeezes for the optimal health benefits.
  • Give your pets plenty of hugs too! Cuddling a furry friend causes oxytocin spikes just like human hugs.
  • Offer colleagues quick “half hugs” in the office to foster connections and boost morale.
  • Seek out more hugs when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. A hug break can re-center you.
  • Join a hugging club or cuddle party group if you want more casual hug opportunities.
  • See a massage therapist or physical therapist for perfectly legitimate therapeutic hugs.

Make a conscious effort to get more hugs each day by initiating more embraces yourself. You can also simply ask friends and loved ones for quick hugs throughout the day.

Best types of hugs

While any caring embrace is beneficial, some types of hugs offer unique perks. Here are five of the best hugs to incorporate into your daily dozen:

1. Therapeutic/deep tissue hug

This tight squeeze provides deep pressure stimulation which releases more oxytocin. The pressure also temporarily relieves head, back and joint pain.

2. Rocking hug

This side-to-side embrace creates a gentle rocking motion that is soothing. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates the vagus nerve to aid relaxation.

3. Belly-to-belly hug

Hugging facing each other with your torsos touching allows you to connect emotionally. This closeness fosters intimacy, affection, and bonding.

4. Silent hug

Embracing without talking enables you to be fully present. This allows the oxytocin and endorphins to flow freely and makes hugging meditative.

5. Extended hug

Hugging for 20-30 seconds optimizes oxytocin release. Set a timer and enjoy longer hugs when you need an extra mood or pain relief boost.

Hugging other people vs objects

You may wonder if hugging inanimate objects has similar effects to hugging living beings. Researchers have found that hugging a teddy bear does cause oxytocin release. But the effects are much greater when hugging a person or animal.

Human touch has powerful subconscious effects. Skin-to-skin contact, body warmth, the heartbeat of another, and emotive reciprocity enhance the benefits. Still, hugging objects is better than no hug at all when living hug partners aren’t available!

Hugging safely

While hugs offer myriad benefits, it’s crucial to hug safely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Avoid hugs with people outside your household bubble for now.
  • Mask up and hug briefly when saying goodbye to people outside your bubble.
  • Stick to virtual hugs through FaceTime, Zoom etc. with friends and distant family.
  • Wash your hands before and after exchanges with people outside your home.
  • Balance hug needs with other safe means of connection like verbal praise and eye contact.

With creativity and care, you can continue reaping the key benefits of hugs while protecting your health and that of others.

Too many hugs?

Is there such as thing as too many hugs? While hug overload is unlikely for most of us not meeting our daily 12 hug goal, there are a couple risks to be aware of:

  • Boundary/comfort level issues – Be sensitive to other people’s hug preferences and don’t force unwanted hugs.
  • Germ exposure – Avoid excessive hugs during viral illness outbreaks. Use good hygiene practices.
  • Physical injury – Take care with overly forceful bear hugs that compress the ribs.
  • Emotional dependence – Do continue connecting verbally too, not just physically through hugs.

With appropriateness, moderation and consent, the positives of hugs almost always outweigh potential downsides. Keep aiming for that dozen!

The takeaway

Science confirms that hugs are far more than just friendly gestures. When we embrace, our bodies release key hormones with wide-ranging physical and mental health benefits.

Aim to hit the target of 12 hugs daily. Reach this quota through a combination of quick squeezes with loved ones, prolonged therapeutic hugs, and diverse hug types. Hugs are free, fun, and one of the most powerful ways we can improve our wellbeing.

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