December 3 was Let’s Hug Day. The amazingly simple gesture of a hug speaks volumes and fits in with the holiday season quite nicely. I want you to imagine the best hug you have ever had. How would you describe it? Was it a deep bear hug? Did it make you feel loved? Was it calming? Hold on to those thoughts for now.
There is science behind hugs. First, hugs help guard against the harmful effects of chronic stress. The holiday season can be a stressful time for everyone as we try to fit in more activities into each day. A hug triggers our calming nervous system to help in coping with the added stress of the holidays. Secondly, hugs help with developing trusting relationships. Hugs help our brain and body to release three important hormones: serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. These hormones can help reduce stress, increase feelings of pleasure, and reduce feelings of loneliness. For children, the release of these hormones helps to build trust with you. In other words, when you hug your child when they are upset or happy, they learn that no matter what, you help them to feel better. Finally, an interesting fact about hugs is that they can actually help improve our immune system. This may be because our body is not flooded with stress hormones, like cortisol, so it can utilize energy to build the immune system. Science proves that that hugs work.
One of the simplest acts of love can have some huge mental and physical benefits. I challenge you today to make every day Let’s Hug Day with your child. Remember the best hug you ever had? Give them the opportunity to experience the benefits of being hugged. You can take it a step further and cozy up with your favorite holiday drink like hot chocolate and snuggle up with your little one and enjoy the benefits of a great hug. The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans wishes you a happy and safe holiday season.