Today is ‘National Hugging Day’, and while hugs can be comforting, did you know they can actually calm us down and boost our happiness? It’s true!
When we are feeling anxious or triggered, there are many ways in which we can calm ourselves down, we call these self-soothing techniques. Breathing slowly, yawning or touching our face are just a few of the simple ways in which humans self-soothe to regulate, as described in ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’. Another method of self-soothing that has been shown to have great success in practice and in research, is a tight hug. This reason this works is the science behind applying deep pressure. This practice is widely used in the occupational therapy field, and has been proven to be particularly successful in people with Autism, ADD or anxiety disorders.
Simply put, deep pressure touch releases serotonin in the body, the calming chemical that helps ease depression and anxiety in the body (among other wonderful things). Kim Barthel explains the benefits of this technique in ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’:
“In my profession of occupational therapy, we have a saying whenever we want to help a client stay calm and regulated: ‘when you don’t know what to do, use deep pressure’. It’s so easy and effective. We wrap people up in sheets of Lycra, use weighted blankets have them wear fitted Lycra clothing, or, when they tolerate it, give them a deep pressure massage. It makes people feel connected to themselves and relaxed.” — Kim Barthel
Hugs can make you happier because of a beautiful chemical in our bodies called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the cuddle hormone”. This is because oxytocin levels rise when we hug or feel physical touch or closeness to someone.
Both people with Autism or those who have been through trauma can be sensitive to touch, and deep pressure requires some caution, so it’s best to learn the techniques of applying deep pressure to yourself. However, there are many ways you can use this technique to self-regulate or self-soothe:
- Weighted blankets or weighted clothing
- Swinging in a hammock
- Walking with weights
- Sitting on your hands
- Giving yourself a hug
- Having someone hug you
- Wrapping yourself in Lycra clothing or sheets
- Getting a massage
Anything you can do to apply pressure to your body will help you feel the effects of that serotonin working! And new research shows that ‘a hug a day keeps the doctor away’, with what scientists call the “stress-buffering effect”. This study shows the amazing health benefits of hugs:
Encouragingly, people overall had a strong sense of social support, as shown by a high median score on the questionnaire. Similarly, they were more likely to be hugged (which happened on an average of 68% of days during the two-week interview period) than to experience conflict (7% of days). [Scientific American]
If you’re looking for more guidance on trauma and this topic, we post more resources every week on our blog.