Whether you’re living in a post-apocalyptic world or in one filled with the stressors of maintaining finances, relationships, appearances, and getting ready for the holidays, the result of such overwhelming stressors can greatly impact your immune system. Continued stress, specifically one we are unprepared or unwilling to deal with, can create a great imbalance in our nervous, endocrine (hormonal), circulatory, and respiratory systems, often causing us to get sick.
We know what causes stress and that stress can negatively affect our health. What about preventative methods? Is there a way to prevent stress and improve our heath? A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that social support and hugging can protect against the harmful effects of stress and can even reduce our risk of getting sick. In their study researchers asked 404 participants about their levels of interpersonal conflicts, as well as the amounts of perceived social support and hugs from others. Then they exposed the participants to a common cold virus and observed them.
The results of this study demonstrated that greater amount of hugs and social support lead to fewer symptoms related to the virus. The leading researcher on the study, Dr. Sheldon Cohen, stated, “This suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress.”
Why is hugging so important in preventing disease? When we are under stress, our body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. If these are overused, the body can go into exhaustion, making it vulnerable to illness. However, when we receive social support, such as a hug, our body releases a different stress hormone, oxytocin. This little magical hormone helps repair and strengthen our nervous system.
So go ahead, give hugs, ask for hugs, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full time geek. She uses Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and trauma at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management and Sharp Memorial Hospital. Dr. Scarlet is also a professor at Alliant International University, San Diego. If you would like to contact Dr. Scarlet, you can contact her via Twitter @shadowquill, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Scarletl, or via her website at www.superhero-therapy.com