Reeling from an argument? Your antidote is a hug, and it can be from anyone in your social support network.
When it comes to interpersonal conflict, hugs make us feel better and buffer us from feeling crappy, according to a study published last October in PLOS One. Hugs help whether they come from friends, family members or romantic partners, the study shows. And hugs don’t discriminate. Doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, married or single. In all cases, the arm swaddle will work its magic.
About 400 healthy adults in the Pittsburgh area participated in the study involving Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Every night for two weeks, researchers interviewed participants about whether they’d had conflicts that day, whether they’d been hugged that day and how they felt. All told, the hugs helped.
This shouldn’t be a total surprise. Research has shown touch can improve wellbeing and create better dynamics in relationships. For example, women who held their husband’s hand and were subjected to the threat of electrical shock had dramatically less activation in parts of the brain associated with emotional and behavioral threats (the better the relationship, the more significant the results), one study reported. They even showed somewhat less activation while holding a stranger’s hand.
Other studies have shown lower cortisol secretion and lower blood pressure and heart rates. Still, most research before the latest study looked mainly at touch’s effect on women and often involved touch between those in romantic relationships, the study’s authors note. The recent study looks at a broader swath of the population.
That said, the latest study didn’t consider whether folks got hugged before or after conflict. So we’re stuck with a chicken-and-egg situation: “This lack of specificity restricted our ability to assess whether hugs were effective buffers because they were given in direct response to conflicts or because they provided a buffer when given prior to conflict,” the study says.
Researchers also never asked participants with whom they butted heads or from whom they got hugs. Nor did the study identify whether hugs from specific categories of people were more effective than those from others. That means the results are more general. But does it matter? Probably not. Just seek out more hugs to cover all your bases.
“Hugging increases the levels of oxytocin produced in the body,” says Mandy Stogner, a health and wellbeing consultant at Colonial Life. “Oxytocin decreases the amount of stress hormones and lowers your blood-pressure response to life’s stressors. These are great reasons to hug your loved ones — and pets — more often.”
Journalist Mitra Malek regularly creates and edits content related to wellness, including for Yoga Journal, where she was a senior editor and is now a contributing editor. Connect at www.mitramalek.com.