We all need human touch and physical affection. Hugs are an important way that we give and receive care, comfort and love. But what happens if you go without hugs for a prolonged period of time? Research shows that lack of touch and physical affection can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of human touch and the consequences of not getting enough hugs.
What are hugs?
A hug is a form of physical intimacy and communication between two people, involving wrapping the arms around another person to express affection, support, comfort or greeting. Hugs are a common way for humans to share platonic or romantic love and affection.
Hugs involve close, physical contact between two people. They require you to be physically near to someone else and put your arms around them. The hugger envelopes the hugged person, often putting their arms over the other’s shoulders or around their back. Hugs can be brief or long, tight or loose, depending on the relationship between the two people.
While hugs often occur between romantic partners, they are also common as platonic expressions of love, friendship, support, sympathy or celebration between family members, friends, colleagues and teammates. We hug to communicate love and affection, to comfort someone who is sad or distressed, to share joy and celebration, and to show support during difficult times.
Types of Hugs
There are many different types of hugs that convey different emotions and meanings:
– Bear hug – tight, enveloping embrace that lifts the hugged person off the ground. Conveys excitement and affection.
– Quick squeeze – brief hug conveying greeting, friendship or celebration.
– Cuddle hug – prolonged, close embrace with bodies pressed together. Conveys romantic intimacy and affection.
– Comforting hug – sympathetic embrace to console distress or grief. Communicates emotional support.
– Lifting hug – hug with person’s feet off the ground, expresses excitement, congratulation or affection.
– Polite hug – loose, brief embrace that conveys polite greeting rather than closeness.
– Pick-up hug – tight hug with feet off the ground, communicates affection.
– Self-hug – person wrapping their own arms around themselves, conveys self-comfort or self-soothing.
The Importance of Touch
Physical touch is vital for human growth, development and health. Touch is one of our primary means of communication and connection. Research shows that touch has profound effects on our bodies and brains.
Human skin contains millions of touch receptors and nerve endings. These send signals to the brain that play a key role in regulating our mood, stress and emotions. Touch triggers the release of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine – hormones and neurotransmitters that promote feelings of bonding, safety, positivity and wellbeing.
Touch and hugs during infancy and childhood are crucial for growth, development and creating secure attachments. Babies who are held, cuddled and touched have better cognitive performance, more advanced motor skills, healthier attachment and greater resilience to stress.
Throughout our lives, interpersonal touch from hugs, handshakes or pats on the back helps meet our need for human connection and belonging. Lack of touch can make people feel isolated, anxious and lonely. Appropriate physical touch reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and can enhance communication and relationships.
Benefits of Hugging
Regular hugs, a key form of positive human touch, have extensive benefits:
– Boost oxytocin – enhances bonding and feelings of intimacy, trust, safety
– Lower blood pressure, heart rate – improves cardiovascular health
– Reduce stress, anxiety – calms the nervous system
– Decrease depression – elevates mood through serotonin, dopamine
– Enhance empathy and understanding of others
– Strengthen relationships and attachment between partners, friends, family
– Support emotional development and resilience in children
– Improve sleep – being touched helps relaxation and sleep
– Boost self-esteem and feelings of acceptance
– Reduce loneliness and social isolation
– Soothe pain – physical contact helps relieve pain through dopamine
– Enhance communication and connection – facilitates openness
– Increase lifespan – regular hugs linked to reduced risk of disease and death
Consequences of Hug Deprivation
What happens if you are not getting regular, positive physical touch and hugs? Lack of appropriate touch can significantly impact our mental and physical wellbeing.
Increased Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Touch produces hormones like oxytocin and serotonin that have powerful anti-stress, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. People deprived of touch have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Lack of hugs is linked to increased anxiety, depression, loneliness, and poor sleep quality.
Weakened Immune System
Regular hugs reduce susceptibility to stress, viruses and infection. People who hug frequently have healthier immune function and lower rates of illness. Hug deprivation is associated with reduced immune function and more frequent sickness.
Higher Blood Pressure, Heart Rate
Hugs lower blood pressure and heart rate by calming the nervous system. Absence of hugs means we lose out on the cardiovascular benefits of oxytocin release. This increases risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.
Reduced Oxytocin and Serotonin
Low levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin are linked to depression, anxiety and relationship issues. Insufficient touch means we also produce less serotonin and dopamine – key hormones that elevate mood, bonding and wellbeing.
Poor Sleep Quality
Touch encourages restful sleep through oxytocin and serotonin release, as well as feelings of safety and security. People deprived of touch have poorer sleep quality, more restless sleep and increased tiredness.
Delayed Growth and Development
Positive touch is essential for growth, development and emotional regulation in infants and children. Insufficient touch early in life can result in attachment disorders, emotional instability, developmental delays, and cognitive deficits.
Feelings of Rejection and Isolation
Touch communicates acceptance, care, and inclusion. Absence of expected touch from parents, partners or friends can trigger feelings of rejection, loneliness and social isolation.
Increased Aggression and Violence
Regular affectionate touch decreases violent and aggressive behaviors. Lack of positive touch early in life is linked to increased aggression, hostility and antisocial tendencies in adolescents and adults.
Higher Risk of Disease and Mortality
Frequent hugs and touch are associated with reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, depression and overall mortality. One study found that hugging partners more resulted in lower disease risk and greater longevity.
Impaired Cognitive Function
Oxytocin and natural touch boost memory, learning and cognition in children and adults. Insufficient touch can result in poorer academic and cognitive performance, and reduced ability to handle cognitive complexity.
How Many Hugs Do You Need?
How many hugs do people need on a daily or weekly basis to meet their need for touch and affection? There are no definitive guidelines, as the optimal amount of hugging varies by individual, culture and relationship. However, here are some suggested hugging frequencies from research and health experts:
– 4 hugs per day – For children 4-8 years old; helps meet need for touch and affection.
– 8 hugs per day – For adults; helps reduce stress and boost oxytocin.
– 20 second hug – The average desirable length of a hug for romantic/intimate partners.
– 10 hugs per week – Minimum number for adults to meet baseline touch needs with friends/family.
– 5 hugs per day – Average that people say they currently receive; many report wanting more.
– 20 hugs per day – Desired amount people say they would like to get but often do not.
The key is receiving frequent, regular, positive hugs from accepted individuals. While getting 4-5 shorter hugs daily could be sufficient, aim for at least 20 seconds of embrace for intimacy and oxytocin boost with romantic partners. Make sure children and infants get plenty of hugging and affection throughout each day.
Signs You May Need More Hugs
How can you tell if you should seek out more hugs from loved ones or touch from massage/contact therapy? Here are some signals you may be touch deprived:
– Frequent feelings of sadness, loneliness, isolation
– High levels of stress or chronic anxiety
– Trouble relaxing or enjoying activities
– Poor sleep quality
– Headaches, muscle tension, pain
– Low energy levels, constant tiredness
– Difficulty concentrating
– Increased illness frequency
– Agitation, moodiness or irritability
– Lack of enthusiasm, flat emotions
– Feeling disconnected from people
– Touch or intimacy avoidance
If you experience these signs, try to get more hugs each day from loved ones. Consider massage, acupuncture or cuddling therapy. Social support groups can also provide much-needed nonsexual touch.
How to Get More Hugs
If you want to get more hugs in your daily life, here are some proactive tips:
Initiate More Hugs
Don’t wait to be hugged – be proactive and offer more hugs to loved ones yourself. Hug family, friends, partners and children more frequently. Offer hugs of greeting, celebration, gratitude, sympathy or for no reason at all.
Ask for Hugs Directly
Tell people close to you that you would appreciate more hugs or physical contact. Many will be happy to oblige. Say “I need a hug” or “I’m feeling low, can I have a hug?” to directly request a hug when you need one.
Snuggle with Pets
Furry friends offer unconditional affection. Snuggle, pet and cuddle animals to get oxytocin benefits. Having your own pet or volunteering at an animal shelter provides abundant hug opportunities.
Arrange consensual cuddling or “professional snuggling” sessions with trained therapists or cuddling groups. Schedule non-sexual touch, embrace and affection from an understanding source.
Try Hug Therapy
Some massage clinics offer add-on hug therapy sessions. Licensed therapists provide therapeutic touch and hugs in a safe, ethical manner.
Therapeutic massage nourishes skin hunger while easing muscle tension. Schedule regular massages to relax and get caring touch. Let the massage therapist know upfront if you prefer minimal talking.
Join Support Groups
Seeking in-person or virtual groups focused on grief, mental health or emotional support can provide a venue for safe, affirming hugs. Connect with like-minded people who understand your needs.
Get a Weighted Blanket
These special blankets mimic the gentle pressure of a hug to help ease anxiety, insomnia and loneliness. Wrap yourself in a weighted blanket’s snug comfort as needed.
Meeting your daily touch needs with regular hugs offers wide-ranging mental, emotional and physical health benefits. If you are touch deprived, make a conscious effort to ask for, initiate and receive more hugs using healthy communication and consent. Consider touch therapy if low on hug availability. With some initiative, you can get the hugs you need for better health and wellbeing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it unhealthy not to be hugged or touched?
Yes, lack of physical touch and hugs can be unhealthy. Human touch plays a crucial role in growth, development, health and emotional wellbeing. People deprived of affectionate touch are more prone to anxiety, depression, aggression, poor immune function and high disease risk. Touch is a fundamental human need.
Can you go crazy from lack of human touch?
Prolonged isolation and lack of human touch can severely damage mental health. Touch deprivation is linked to increased anxiety, depression, mood instability, psychosis, impaired cognitive abilities and violent behaviors – symptoms of psychological breakdown. However, full-blown insanity solely from lack of touch is uncommon.
Do humans need physical touch?
Yes, humans absolutely need physical affection and touch from others. Touch (especially in infancy and childhood) is essential for growth, emotional regulation, immune function, stress response and homeostasis. Positive interpersonal touch triggers key hormones and meets fundamental social-emotional needs.
What happens if you don’t touch a baby?
Infants require regular affectionate touch for proper growth and development. Babies deprived of touch tend to have attachment disorders, underdeveloped motor skills, learning disabilities, impaired social functioning, stunted language acquisition, and higher risk of disease, infection and mortality.
Can lack of physical touch cause aggression?
Yes, absence of positive touch is linked to increased aggression, hostility and violent behaviors in both children and adults. Touch triggers hormones like oxytocin that have calming, prosocial effects. People deprived of touch are prone to lashing out due to high stress and impaired social functioning.
Hugs and affectionate touch are crucial components of human health and interaction. Appropriate physical contact – especially from an early age – plays a vital role in growth, emotional regulation, cognitive function, stress response, illness prevention and social bonding. Insufficient touch and lack of hugs can contribute to developmental problems, anxiety, depression, aggression, weakened relationships and immune function, and greater risk of disease and death.
Make appropriate physical touch and hugs a regular part of your connections with loved ones. If deprived of touch, request more hugs from family and friends, consider touch therapy, join support groups, or use tactile aids like weighted blankets. Prioritize getting thehugs you need for optimal wellbeing.