This is Your Brain on Hugs

**Due to Hurricane Sandy, DailyPath Trailguide’s name change has been postponed until November 8. We hope you are all faring well after the storm.**

Photo courtesy of Ganesha Isis

Hurricane Sandy has disrupted the lives of many people hailing from Jamaica all the way up to Canada. I’m lucky enough to live just far enough off the coast of New Jersey, and although my family and I were mighty scared during the high winds and rain, we’re very thankful that we didn’t suffer any structural damage to our home, or, more importantly, to any of us.

In today’s post, I wanted to take the opportunity to give all of our readers a virtual hug in case any of you were deeply affected by the storm. I know, I know.  “A hug?  Is that all she’s got to offer?” – is what you’re probably saying. It’s true; I admit that those people directly in the path of something as intense and destructive as a hurricane will ultimately need much more than hugs to get back on their feet.

However, hugs can do quite a lot more than we give them credit for.  In fact, although most couples might claim to prefer passionate kisses, regular hugging has been shown to create a deeper bond, as it increases the amount of three neurotransmitters being released in the brain.

It doesn’t even seem to matter who we are hugging - our significant other, our friends, our children, our parents, or a person who needs our help (such as someone in the aftermath of a natural disaster). Just the simple act of hugging causes dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to be released. Dopamine is responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling, and it’s also responsible for motivation!  Serotonin puts us in a better mood and quells our fears and feelings of loneliness. Oxytocin is responsible for building bonds and trust with the person we are hugging.

Even more interesting is that children who are hugged often end up growing a 10% larger hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and responding to stress. People with a larger hippocampal volume have been shown to have a better capacity for learning and a much lower chance of developing an anxiety or depression problem during their lifetime.

As soon as I learned just how effective hugs can be, I wanted to run out and hug everyone I could find! But…then I realized that might be creepy.  It’s pretty important that both people involved in the hug feel good about it, and I’m fairly certain that being hugged by a creep doesn’t feel good. Knowing that being hugged regularly can actually make substantial changes to the brain, and can create smarter, happier, more motivated individuals is pretty powerful information. I say: let’s see what kind of a difference we can make on our friends and loved ones, and those in need around us by hugging it out, just a little more often.  It’s worth a shot, no?

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    • Laurie

      There was a period of about a decade in which my immediate family just stopped hugging each other as we got ‘too old’ for public affection. When my niece and nephew came along, my siblings and I were in awe of how much our parents hugged the babies! We just did not hug each other…very strange. We became closer due to the twins including everyone in their hugs to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ with each visit.

      Luckily for us, the babies are now 22 and they never got too old for hugs, so our family became much closer and stayed that way!

      • Adrienne McGuire

        I’ve witnessed something similar with someone in my extended family as well – only hugging, kissing, and showing affection for the babies and small children. With a concerted effort, I’ve gotten this person to begin showing some physical affection again, and to say ‘I love you.’ It’s amazing how much physical affection really DOES do for your psyche.