Cuddles and Hugs

img034 colorHave you heard of “cuddle clubs?” They are the latest trend around the world among Millennials, Gen X’ers and Boomers who are in need of a hug. Cuddling – with a parent or sibling or even a favorite stuffed animal – was easier when we were younger. But it can be difficult for an adult who is not in a relationship to find a partner to embrace.

With the widespread use of social media on the Internet taking the place of face-to-face interactions and delayed marriage rates, young adults are often coming to terms with social isolation. The dangers of such lack of skin-to-skin contact are well documented from research identifying its effects on children’s failure to thrive, physically and psychologically. Conversely, infant massage and parental holding signal a message of calm and safety. Caring touches among adults have been found to reduce stress and lower blood pressure while enhancing oxytocin levels.

Even without the studies, we innately understand that humans need physical touch. Cuddle parties provide an opportunity for connecting through affectionate hugs, without any sexual overtones. With a facilitator leading the group, boundaries are respected, communication skills are emphasized and the focus is on supportive, consensual touch. Participants feel comforted by a back rub, foot massage or snugging up together in a “puppy pile.”

If cuddle parties in pajamas aren’t for you, here are some other ways you can improve your health through touch:

Get a pet. It’s been shown that petting your dog can actually lower your blood pressure, increase your immune system function and reduce your perceptions of pain. And hanging out with a pet you love always provides good company.

Have a massage. A good rubdown can unwind your muscles physically, reduce your heart rate, and lead to a drop in the stress hormone cortisol. In that relaxed state your immune response is enhanced, increasing your white cells to help fight off disease.

Hug a loved one. Hugging releases oxytocin, know as the “love hormone,” which then lowers cortisol levels, reducing stress and generating feelings of security and connection. With less anxiety, feelings of happiness create a positive outlook.

Hold hands. Researchers have found that when faced with a stressful environment, holding hands can lower the brain’s perception of threat as well as later feelings of pain. The sense of calm that hand-holding generates actually quiets the brain and reduces cortisol levels.

Whatever your strategy for touching and being touched, enjoy the good feelings that accompany it. And, with your nurturing, know that you’re taking a step in protecting and enhancing your health.

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