Hug it out

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There’s a controversial new therapy in town and it involves cuddling. Yes, cuddle therapy is an alternative well-being boosting therapy that has grown in popularity in recent months. You can now find cuddle meet-ups and salons happening across America, the UK, Australia and even in Ireland. The main tenant of cuddle therapy centres on the idea that non-sexual human touch can be deeply healing and fulfilling. You can attend a cuddle therapy group or do one-on-one sessions and as the name suggests, you dive right in and get cuddling. If the thought of getting up, close and personal with a therapist or a group of random strangers, don’t despair. Cuddle therapy is something that you can easily do yourself, in the comfort of your own home – no strangers necessary.

The science bit
So is cuddling actually good for you? Well, we all know how good hugging a loved one feels. The reason why it feels so nurturing is down to a little chemical called oxytocin. Also known as the ‘bonding hormone’ oxytocin helps to lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, relieve pain, help us to develop connections with other, inspire love, boost our wellbeing and more. As well as physical benefits, research has shown that regular hugging can also boost our self-esteem and help to alleviate fears. Research published in the journal Psychological Science found that regular hugs actually help to reduce the fear of death. The good news is that you don’t even have to hug another person. Researchers observed that even hugging a teddy bear had a powerful effect when it came to soothing the fears of people.

The right age?
There has been lots of speculation over who benefits from hugging the most. While children receive significantly more hugs than the average adult (and while it helps them in all the above ways too), it’s actually adults who benefit most. According to researchers based at the Ohio State University, hugging (and other types of physical touch) become increasingly important the older we get. The number one reason for this being that as we age, we witness more things in the world and are more fragile emotionally than children. We also have to deal with issues such as loneliness. By hugging a friend, a loved one, ourselves, or a teddy bear, we instantly feel affection and feelings of nurturance which can help us to cope better with the physical, mental and emotional impacts of modern life.

Work your hug
With so many benefits contained in such a simple, free and easy-to-do act, how can you get the most from hugging?

Pick a hug partner – The effects from hugs are strengthened when you build an affectionate relationship with another. This relationship can be romantic, familial or purely platonic – it doesn’t matter. So endeavour to hug your child more, or your partner or your parent or sibling. If you don’t have someone that you feel comfortable hugging, you can still avail from the benefits. Try wrapping your arms around yourself. Hugging yourself regularly can help to boost self-esteem and self-compassion which are incredibly important traits to nurture. If you feel self-conscious hugging yourself, try hugging a teddy bear or a pet. You will still get all the benefits.

Be mindful – Soak up the most benefits from your hug by really being mindful of what’s happening as you hug. How does it feel physically? How does it make you feel emotionally? Does it make your breathing slow down? Does your body relax or melt into the embrace? By practicing mindfulness in your hug, you’ll be able to recall it in detail later, which will help to release even more feelings of wellbeing post-hug.

Timing is everything – According to experts, most of us only embrace for an average of three seconds. However, in order to get the oxytocin pumping and the positive feelings skyrocketing, we should endeavour to embrace for at least 20 seconds per hug. The average adult needs a solid 2-2.5 minutes of hugging every day to really reap the benefits, so make sure you’re getting your recommended daily allowance.

Don’t forget to breathe and smile – If you’re not a natural hugger, then embracing yourself or another person can be a little uncomfortable at first. It does get much easier with practice and you’ll find that the more you hug, the greater your relationships with yourself and with others. Hugging is a bonding experience and it helps to enrichen our relationships. But it can be difficult at first and many of us subconsciously tense up, so make sure you don’t forget to breathe. As you embrace yourself or another, take smooth, deep breaths and smile. Why smile? A simple smile can give you even more of a boost with studies showing that a smile, whether you feel like smiling or not, helps to trigger the areas of your brain associated with reward and happiness. This will help to add a powerful punch of extra happiness to your hug. Think of it as two for the price of one, in terms of wellbeing and health benefits.

Woman's Way