Why Hugs Are Good for Your Health
Five months into this pandemic, we can say with certainty that cabin fever is real. Very, very real. Even if there are now countless ways to keep in touch with loved ones online, a well-meaning Zoom call does little toward replacing the warmth of a hug—or, heck, even the unwelcome thrill, in simpler times, of stumbling into a stranger on the street or on the subway. And, as it turns out, there’s a scientific explanation for the toll that a lack of physical social interaction can take on our well-being. Humans are hardwired to crave the human touch from the moment we’re born—a specific type of longing that psychologists call “skin hunger.” Our desire for touch isn’t just emotional, either: Studies show that physical touch reduces the levels of stress hormones within our bodies and triggers the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex to release oxytocin, the “feel-good” chemical that also enhances our feelings of compassion for one another. Hugging can lower blood pressure and actually help our bodies fight off infection by stimulating the thymus, which regulates the production of white blood cells. In our time of prolonged social distancing, this is a particularly ironic and tragic pill to swallow.