Hugging is a simple act with many benefits

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/17/19

In Spanish, it’s called un abrazo.In French, it’s un calin.The English language employs onlya single vowel sandwiched betweentwo consonants to notate the samething: a …

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Hugging is a simple act with many benefits

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In Spanish, it’s called un abrazo.
In French, it’s un calin.
The English language employs only a single vowel sandwiched between two consonants to notate the same
thing: a “hug.”
The word isn’t complex and neither is the action: an embrace between two people.
Regardless of the language spoken, or the word we may use, a hug is one of the most basic forms of nonverbal
human communication, usually employed to express affection.
But for all their simplicity, a lot goes on when we give or receive a hug and a lot of serious research has been
conducted to help us better understand the action.

There’s even National Hugging Day, introduced in the United States in 1986 and observed annually since. It’s
happening again on Jan. 21.
Carolyn Miller, Chatham County’s human resources director, wasn’t previously aware of National Hugging
Day, but when she learned of it she immediately noticed the event shares its date with the Martin Luther King
Jr. holiday.
“It’s well-placed timing,” she said, “happening on a day honoring someone who promoted non-violent actions.”
Miller said she’ll be traveling that day, visiting family outside of North Carolina; but now mindful of National
Hugging Day, she said she’ll probably give her loved ones an extra-long hug at the airport.
While not a “huggy person” by nature, Miller said she understands the “therapeutic value of a comforting touch.”
But, she admitted, the subject of hugging “does tend to make HR people nervous.”
“The most important thing is consent,” Miller said. “That simply involves asking and saying ‘Is it OK if I give you a hug?’ And it’s OK if the answer is ‘no.’ Some people just aren’t comfortable with it, and that’s okay.”
Miller said it’s important to consider “what hugging represents” and, sometimes in lieu of an actual hug, a
“virtual hug” – a compliment, a kind word, some other type of positive reinforcement – can produce the same
effect, particularly in a professional setting.
But once consent is established, a good, old-fashioned hug can be more than the sum of its parts.
“Physiologically, when you hug someone there is a chemical release that occurs,” said Dr. Daniel Skulavik,
who owns and operates Resolve Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation in Siler City.
“Your body releases chemicals such as Oxytocin and serotonin,” he said, “both of which are responsible for
improving a person’s happiness and mood.”
While Dr. Skulavik’s practice doesn’t actually incorporate hugging, he understands the value of a hug.
“As we all know there are many positive effects that exercise can produce within the human body,” he said. “Are there any similarities, though, between exercising and hugging? Although these are two very different entities, there are definitely several parallels between the two.
“One of the main results that both produce are improved feelings of confidence and self-esteem. And according to a study done at the University of North Carolina, they concluded that hugging can help lower your blood
pressure. Having a low blood pressure is highly correlated with having a lower risk of heart disease.”
Other research shows that a firm, 20-second hug can help boost one’s immunity, he noted.
“When someone feels that they have a better support system around them, their body is more likely to protect
them from conflict related stress, which in turn can lead to one getting sick,” Dr. Skulavik said.
But those aren’t benefits most people are conscious of  during a hug.
Often a hug is more spontaneous, like when one of Dr. Skulavik’s recent patients, grateful for the relief she received from chronic back pain through therapy, gave him a hug.
“She was so excited that she started crying and gave me a huge hug,” he said. “I knew that she got relief and
was feeling better, but the appreciation given was so much more heartfelt and personal because of that hug.”
While there’s no age limit on hugging, some area seniors are getting extra hugs this year.
Visiting Angels, an in-home senior care provider with an office in Carborro serving the north Chatham County
area, tied in a special week of hugs with National Hugging Day.
The senior care agency began sending “designated huggers” to visit clients this week.
“We’re taking the time to deliver hugs for a week this January because studies show a heartfelt hug is a great
stress buster, it can help lower blood pressure, and even mitigate cold symptoms,” said Visiting Angels CEO
Larry Meigs.


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