At Centered Therapy Chicago we are dedicated to helping you and your loved ones find peace, longevity, and healing. In honor of Valentines Day, we recommend taking a closer look at one of the most fundamental ways of healing and connecting with others. Hugs!​

Here are our 5 reasons to mindfully hug, and 5 tips for your best hug yet. ​

1.     Hugs help us connect:

One of the most important benefits of hugging is the subsequent release of the hormone oxytocin, often dubbed “the bonding hormone” or “the love hormone” because it facilitates feelings of trust, love, and attachment. This is the same hormone that is released when mothers give birth, which promotes the instantaneous feeling of love and attachment between mom and baby.

 

2.     Promotes relaxation and reduces stress

The oxytocin released during a hug has a trickle down effect throughout the body, causing a decrease in the stress hormones, cortisol and norepinephrine. Once we feel connected and supported by our loved ones, our bodies physiologically begin to feel safe. The biological sense of safety triggers further relaxation throughout our bodies, therefore reducing the frequency and intensity of feeling stressed, and even improving our quality of sleep.

3.     Reduces blood pressure

Another trickle down effect of increased oxytocin is the subsequent decrease in heart rate. Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill found that higher levels of oxytocin were correlated with lower cardiovascular reactivity in stressful situations. Other studies from the University of North Carolina have replicated the association between higher levels of oxytocin with lower blood pressure.

 

4.     Improves mood

The presence of oxytocin in known to increase the production of another feel-good chemical, dopamine. Low levels of dopamine are associated with depression, lack of motivation and lack of attention, while low levels of oxytocin are associated with the experience of fear. These emotional experiences may be mitigated by intentionally and naturally increasing the presence of oxytocin and dopamine.

There is also evidence that oxytocin and dopamine may change the way we perceive social signals. Oxytocin and dopamine interact with the part of the brain responsible for processing emotional situations, the amygdala. Therefore, an increased amount of oxytocin and dopamine may significantly change the way we perceive social situations and other emotional experiences. An amygdala with less oxytocin and dopamine may perceive a friend’s facial expression as anger, while the same amygdala with higher levels of oxytocin and dopamine might perceive the expression as mere confusion or even humor. ​

5.     Increases pain tolerance:

Studies looking at the brain’s reaction to human contact in threatening situations reveal that our social behavior is a biological need, which helps us manage pain and other threatening situations. With the help of brain scans, researchers at Virginia University have observed pain patients to experience decreased fear, danger, threat, and pain when they touch their loved ones. One study completed at Ohio State University even found that when oxytocin is put into wounds in animals, the injuries heal faster!