E S S A Y Around ten years ago I wrote an essay for this blog about not being much of a hugger. I theorized then that hugging is a learned response and no one in my family seemed to be enthusiastic about hugging. Who knows what went on behind parents’ closed doors but that’s another day on someone’s couch.
Only recently has hugging become important to me and what a revelation that was. Chalk it up to age or life changes or whatever, the point is that I now have come to understand the value of a hug. Now I know that it’s a vital connection that tells someone that they are important to you, and if the hug is reciprocally enthusiastic, you know that you are important to them. And that’s what hugging has always been about – I just didn’t know it.
I still have a problem hugging a tall person. Getting up close and personal with a sternum is not my idea of a good time or a good hug. But it’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things, especially when hugs are loaded with health benefits. Yes, when you feel close and connected to people you care about, studies have shown that this enhanced social support can mean you’re less likely to catch a cold.
Then there’s the fact that hugging can release oxytocin (also known as the bonding hormone) and that in turn reduces stress. Receptors under your skin can increase vagal activity that helps to put you in a relaxed state. The calming effect of a hug has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
I’m not confident that our current state of polarization could be ameliorated by increasing hugging, but it might not be a bad place to start. It’s hard to yell insults at someone when you’re in a close embrace.
So I’ve come late to the party but that beats not being invited, or worse, not knowing there was a party. I no longer shrink from the hug. Quite the opposite. I’ve embraced the embrace. Don’t you think I even sound calmer?
Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He’s written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.