LET ME BE FRANK: Hug Somebody

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LET ME BE FRANK: Hug Somebody

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At the end of every one of my child development classes, the professor says to us: “Everybody hug somebody.”

I’ve always liked that he said this, but I never really thought about the psychological implications this advice had. So I did some research, and all I have to say is, for the love of all things, everybody please go hug somebody.  Lord knows we need it.

Before I go any farther into this, just know that when it comes to science, I am pretty much useless. But this type of science I think I can handle. Bare with me as I try to explain. 

Our bodies all create a hormone called Oxytocin. It acts as a neurotransmitter in our brains. It pretty much plays a huge role in social interaction. Anywhere from sexual interactions to more general social attributes such as trust, generosity and empathy. I’m focusing most on the empathy and trust pieces here. 

Oxytocin is often referred to as the love hormone, as it is at the core of what makes people connect. What we can take from this is that we are quite literally built to connect with others. There is a wiring that requires of us to love.  But there seems to be a growing trust, generosity and empathy deficit in our society.

“A research study on the effects of technology and relationships found that our increased use of tech has resulted in less face-to-face communication and worse quality communication,” writes psychologist Mylea Charvat. “It appears we are facing a moral dilemma – but I posit that it is broader than that. Whether or not we prioritize human connection may well determine the kind of world we leave to our children (one connected and human or disconnected and self-centered) as well as our mental and physical health.”

So what’s the best way to connect with the others? How do we get some more Oxytocin? There is something that physically occurs in our brains when we touch other people. A spark goes off, the neurons fire and suddenly that Oxytocin, the love hormone, floods in. 

“Physical touch stimulates the most potent release of oxytocin,” writes Emiliya Zhivotovskaya. “In a TED Talk, Dr. [Paul] Zak prescribes at least eight hugs per day to feel happier and more connected, as well as to nurture relationships. According to Zak, research into relationships has shown that higher Oxytocin levels are associated with improved heart health, especially in women. Furthermore, after only 20 seconds of hugging a romantic partner, one can achieve a spike in Oxytocin levels, as well as a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels.”

So obviously, Oxytocin is an important part of our humanity. And the best way to activate this flood of Oxytocin is to connect with others through physical touch. From here, we are more trusting, more generous and more empathetic. Eight hugs per day seems like a nice prescription to me.

What this really all boils down to is a need to be gentle. We have to be present, there for other people. We cannot let the world allow us to disconnect and lose our humanity. And the world could really use some gentleness right now.  There is strength in tenderness. Everybody hug somebody. 

 Franklin Norton can be contacted at [email protected]

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