I have been doing a lot of hugging recently.
I am a very tactile person. I cuddle my daughters and my husband all the time. My youngest daughter still likes to have a back rubbed before she goes to bed. I always hug my friends hello and goodbye. When I am talking to people my natural instinct is to touch them. Needless to say I don’t do this with everyone, but it is my intuitive response, especially when people are in distress.
Last week I hugged my wonderful alcohol counsellor, Suzie goodbye.
On Monday I spent time holding Rita who was struggling at our group meeting. At the time I was conscious of how tiny and fragile she felt. The next day one of my colleagues at work was upset and frustrated about something. We talked, she cried and we hugged. She felt better and so did I.
Yesterday I was feeling fed up. My wonderful friend Sarah gave me a hug. Feeling her close really helped. Just thinking about it now makes me feel good.
There is lots of evidence that touching has all kind of benefits.
- Oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle chemical” is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and secreted into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. It acts on the limbic system, the brain’s emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment and reducing anxiety and stress. When we hug someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies lowering heart rate and lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Reduced cortisol lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and promotes a sense of calm. When Suzie hugged me at our first meeting the sense of relief was completely overwhelming.
- As social beings we all need to have a sense of connection with others. Touch is an important way of communicating and connecting. A hug is one of the simplest ways to show appreciation and acknowledgement of another person. Being held makes us feel safe and not so all alone. When I was holding Rita I simply wanted to scoop her up and keep her safe.
- Almost 70 percent of communication is non-verbal. Hugging is an excellent example. When Sarah hugged me I could feel her love and care even without either of us saying anything.
- From birth, touch shows us that we’re loved and special and this continues into adulthood. Hugs confirm to us that we are worthy and promote self-love. When Mr So hugs me I feel reassured he thinks I’m special. In turn this helps me to believe in my own self-worth. Perceiving myself as deserving love, most importantly self-love, has been central to my recovery so far. When I was drinking I had no self-esteem. I could not see the point of looking after myself or why anyone else would want to look after me. Four months on being kind to myself and sober treats are two of the most important tools in my sober toolkit.
- Reaching out and hugging releases endorphins and serotonin which causes pleasure and reduces pain. A number of studies have shown that people who get regular touch tend to have lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate compared those who do not. Touch does not necessarily have to be with another human; even stroking a pet can have a similar effect. No that I am not spending my evenings surreptitiously gulping down wine in the kitchen, I spend more time sitting on the sofa, reading or watching TV. Often one of my cats will join me and enjoy some fuss. The pleasure is definitely mutual!
More and more in today’s society people find themselves living in a bubble surrounded by others but never touching or being touched. When I was drinking I existed in what felt like a fuzzy perspex box. I could see life going on around me but without me. I had very little physical contact with others and what I did have felt forced.
Gradually, since I stopped drinking that has improved. I feel that I am worth hugging so if I need a hug I ask for one. At the same time, I can see that my touch benefits others and they might actually welcome a hug from me. So all in all I am hugging and being hugged, much more than before. That has to be a good thing.
Hugs to you all X