The Therapeutic Benefits of Hugging
Hugging has become a therapeutic tool. It may sound strange, but this form of therapy is profoundly effective.
Hugging has such a profound effect on us, because ever since conception we are surrounded by touch. As babies in the womb, we felt the sensation of the amniotic fluid in which we floated for 9 months. When we were born, we were greeted by the embrace of our mother. We come to know our world first through the sensation of touch.
Research has shown that infants require hugging. Sadly, around the beginning of the 20th century many infants in underserved institutions died from a condition known as “marasmus,” which meant “wasting away.” It was believed at the time that children became spoiled if they were picked up and coddled by their mothers when they cried.
As a result, the children in these institutions were cared for only in the most basic terms. Their diapers were changed and they were fed, but they were allowed to lie crying in their cribs. Devoid from the sensation of touch, many of them wasted away and died. Current knowledge of infants supports touch. It is even utilized as a therapy in hospitalized infants because it lowers their mortality rate.
Culture and Hugging
Whether or not people hug one another is greatly influenced by the culture in which they live. Some cultures, such as the Bush people of the Kalahari and the Arapesh of New Guinea hug their children so much that American parents appear to be neglecting their children by comparison. In many cultures around the world, babies and infants are swaddled in a wrap that binds them to the mother’s body. This practice allows infants to be in constant contact with their mothers as they go about their day.
Not only do Americans not touch their children as much as many other cultures touch theirs, but they also discourage children from touching anything. It stands to reason, as American adults do not touch each other very much. It is no wonder, therefore, that when these children become adults that they do not know how to express affection well, because they were told constantly as children to deny their impulse to touch.
The Medical Benefits of Hugging
It has been proven that hugging can help relieve chronic pain. Decades ago, Dr. David Bresler, Ph.D. was well known for prescribing hugs to relieve pain. He would literally write prescriptions for four hugs a day, and his patients reported that it worked. Today, we recognize this modality of treatment as “therapeutic touch.”
Another benefit of hugging is that it can raise hemoglobin levels in the blood. Studies comparing the hemoglobin levels of patients who were touched versus those who were not touched clearly showed a marked increase in hemoglobin for those patients who were touched.
Hugging Improves Feelings of Self-Worth
Hugging also can improve our feelings of self-worth and help alleviate symptoms of depression. The simple act of hugging conveys a sense of reassurance of acceptance by another person. Especially for people, such as the elderly or the disenfranchised, who do not often feel the touch of another human being, a hug provides a sense of acceptance and belonging – something that many of them live without for very long periods.
In a recent news spot, a lady by the name of Elizabeth Laird who was known by many, many soldiers at Fort Hood as “The Hug Lady” passed away. She greeted soldiers being deployed and returning from duty. She gave each and every one of them a hug. Soldiers who posted on her Facebook page after her passing reported that receiving a hug from her made all the difference. For a person who gave hugs to receive several minutes of prime time news broadcast, there is obviously something to it.
We Don’t Get Enough Hugs
By and large, Americans tend to reserve hugs for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, or holiday gatherings. Most of us do not hug daily. As a result we become islands unto ourselves, devoid of human contact.
By reintroducing hugging to your life, you can experience a multitude of benefits, emotional and physical. If you are in need of a hug, ask for one!