This past weekend was the start of the Three Rivers Arts Fest. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for 11 years and until this past Sunday, I had never gone to this annual two-week festival of art, music, and culture run by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. This year, I promised myself I would go, and I had a great reason to: I wanted to support my friend’s daughter, Lily Harvey, who was performing on Sunday.
Pittsburgh Pride coincided with the festival this past weekend, so there were a lot of people attending both events. While there, I saw several people wearing T-shirts that said things like “FREE MOM HUGS” or “FREE DAD HUGS.”
I thought that was a great idea! I know that some in the LGBTQ+ community have been rejected and disowned by their families for being who they are. Getting a hug from someone who seems like a “mom” or a “dad” may just give them the comfort and strength they need.
Indeed, there was a viral post about this very topic, and if you haven’t seen it yet, please stop reading this for a moment and go read this account, where the writer details moving stories about the people who asked for a hug during Pride. Go ahead—I’ll wait.
🧡 💛 💚 💙 💜
Okay, back now? Wasn’t that really touching?
I can’t imagine being rejected by my parents. I’m pretty positive mine would always love me no matter what. But many people aren’t as lucky, and they need our help. Being cared for, loved, and hugged are basic human rights, as far as I’m concerned. (And are awesome ways to disrupt negativity.)
So this got me thinking about hugs in general. I’m a pretty huggy person, so I wondered WHY do hugs help, and HOW do they help us?
I did a little reading on the topic!
Here is my summary of five reasons hugging is good for you:
1. Hugging releases brain chemicals that make you feel good.When you are hugged by someone, your brain releases oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These rewarding brain chemicals help cement emotionally positive experiences and help reduce stress levels.
2. Hugging reduces your heart rate and blood pressure.Studies have been done that show both blood pressure and heart rate are reduced after the act of hugging. Having these two biometric stats lowered also contributes to the reduction of stress mentioned above, as well as less anxiety and a pervasive feeling of calm.
3. Hugging may help fight infection.With the reduction in stress, your body becomes more immune to infection. A study was done that showed a correlation between perceived social support and the effects of illness, showing reduced symptoms for those who felt they had good social support. And what is a hug if not a physical manifestation of social support?
4. Hugging creates stronger relationships.It’s said that children who are hugged regularly grow up more secure, confident, and sure of their place in their family. It’s also said that couples who hug and cuddle each other have stronger relationships. Once again, those rewarding brain chemicals help cement a relationship through physical touch. Neurobiologist Mary Carlson studied orphans in Romania in the 60s and 70s and discovered there were negative effects to those who were not hugged or who did not have positive social interactions regularly; these effects included elevated stress hormones like cortisol.
5. Hugging may help reduce pain.A study was done in which people were exposed to a moderately painful stimulus with and without someone they love touching them. In the former scenario, being touched by a loved one had an analgesic effect. Additionally, another study done on people who suffer from chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia showed a reduction in symptoms when they sought six forms of therapeutic touch. Hugging is a form of therapeutic touch, is it not? Okay, I know this one is stretching a bit, but hear me out. For instance, just this morning my husband hugged me, and I’m in a full-blown fibro flare, so if he used too much pressure, it would hurt a little bit. But emotionally, I felt much better for having gotten that hug, and indeed, I often turn to him for a hug in times of increased pain. A hug from Fred is my favorite medicine! Those positive brain chemicals and reward circuits are doing their jobs! So while this is anecdotal evidence, at best, I’m going to call it a a legit win.
ConclusionSo with all that science to back it up, I think hugging is an EXCELLENT way to combat negativity! It’s simple, it costs nothing, and it can put a smile on someone’s face again. Why not offer someone a hug today? Not only would you help someone feel better, I bet it would help you, too.
As for those people at Pride who were willing to offer comfort to complete strangers with a hug, once again I am SUPER proud of my city for showing such compassion. You have my mad respect, Pittsburgh!
Until next time, be happy! 💛🐝