Nurturing the Heart: The Power of Hugs and Human Touch
The new year is a good time to think about taking care of your heart. In February we not only celebrate Valentine’s Day, but we also observe American Heart Month. These observances have different implications, one focusing on emotional health, the other on physical health. Hugs, which can deliver health benefits from easing stress to lowering blood pressure, are the ideal way to nurture both aspects of the heart.
No matter how old we are, we all thrive on loving relationships. This doesn’t have to be romantic love. As we age, people come and go from our lives, and eventually we start to lose those who
are closest to us to illness and death. In my work helping people find senior living communities I see many people who are lonely. I love seeing them thrive by going from being alone at home to becoming part of a community.
When an individual is part of a community she has the opportunity to make friends and even get lots of hugs! Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective in healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.
As stated in The Huffington Post: “Hugs don’t just bring us closer to others in a literal sense: they also trigger the release of oxytocin, a chemical associated with bonding behaviors.” The boost in oxytocin levels heals feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. “When we physically connect through a hug, it makes us feel emotionally and psychologically connected to the other person, it calms us, and it shows support.”
Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness. Hugging also relaxes muscles and helps release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.
Hugs teach us how to give and receive. There is equal value in receiving and being receptive to warmth, as to giving and sharing. Hugs are so much like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be present in the moment.
Yet, many people are touch-deprived. One study found that one-third of people receive no hugs on a daily basis, while 75 percent said they wanted more hugs. In this day and age where technology is king and family members often live far away from each other, we can really make a difference in someone’s life by giving them a bushel full of hugs.
Do you know someone who lives alone or seems lonely and/or stressed out? Do you feel helpless when it comes to cheering them up? Now you know what to do! Give them lots of hugs and fill their heart with joy. And if that person is a senior, consider moving him or her to a senior living community where she can make friends and participate in activities that will lift her spirits and keep her vibrant.
Remember you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of local resources including a network of Certified Senor Advisors® (CSAs ) such as myself who are here to help.