Back to school time means more exposure to viruses and bacteria that can make our families ill. Handwashing is an effective measure for reducing exposure; however, there is a simple method to boost your immune system: Hugging!
How many hugs do you give or get a day? How many hugs do you give your children?
As our children age, we tend to hug them less. In some communities and circles, hugging is quite common when greeting friends.
Oxytocin is an important neurotransmitter. Scientific American explains:
About ten years ago, psychology studies started to show that single doses of oxytocin, delivered through an intranasal spray, could promote various aspects of social behaviour in healthy adults. People who inhaled oxytocin before playing an investment game were more willing to entrust their money to a stranger than were placebo-treated players. A dose of the hormone also increased the amount of time that people spent gazing at the eye region of faces, and improved their ability to infer the emotional state of others from subtle expressions. 4
Not only do hugs increase oxytocin levels and pro-social behavior, the hormone works to reduce stress thus preventing infection. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found hugs actually help people stay healthy. Lead psychologist Sheldon Cohen stated:
We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses. We also know that people who report having social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states, such as depression and anxiety. We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection. 5
The study involved 404 healthy adults. First, their support system was assessed using a questionnaire including frequency of hugging. Next, the adults were intentionally exposed to cold viruses and quarantined. As reported by the Associaton for Psychological Science:
Among infected participants, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms whether or not they experienced conflicts.
“This suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress,” Cohen said. “The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy.” 6
It is important to hug our children when they are young and continue as they age. Lack of physical contact when young inhibits the ability of hugs to increase oxytocin later in life. Studies involving Romanian orphans have found the “lasting impact” on the vagus nerve and underdeveloped oxytocin system from lack of touch. To a lesser degree, people who tend to dislike hugging as adults may have experienced less physical touch in their youth. 9
Hug your kids before they go to school every morning and before they go to bed! It’s an easy way to protect them from illness.
Image: LorileeAlanna / Pixabay