What we know about skin-to-skin touch is evolving thanks to new research.
The largest organ in your body is your skin. It’s also the fastest-growing, regenerating at such a rapid rate that you get a new coat every month. Our skin serves as both a barrier from the outside environment and a data collector for our brain. The tips of our fingers, the soles of our feet, and the insides of our lips are all built to pick up the most exact pieces of sensory data, with dense concentrations of nerve endings dedicated to this goal.
A hug, on the other hand, elicits a variety of responses that warm our hearts and make us feel better.
Our affective antennae acquire information that influences our responses to situations filled with affective and cognitive complexity, even if they appear to be simply physiological reactions. As the body responds to several areas of activity, the messages sent by nerve endings become more sophisticated.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that influences social behavior
When we are under stress, our bodies respond by producing the hormone cortisol, according to researchers. When we’re stressed, this hormone appears, and it effectively slows down the healing process while creating “flashbulb” memories of situations we wish to avoid in the future.
Cortisol is released when we are socially rejected, and it has the consequence of making us more inclined to meet new friends and form new connections.
This could explain the solidarity that develops among military forces or those trapped in an elevator together, as well as the sense of community that we feel when natural calamities strike. We seek out supportive alliances with those who can defend us, or at the very least console us, when we are stressed.
When we witness others in suffering, our empathy kicks in, and we feel compelled to reach out—figuratively and literally—to soothe them, whether they are victims of terror, calamity, or ordinary heartache and stress. When you extend a hand, a pat on the back, or a supportive embrace, you activate the body’s natural high-producing mechanism—oxytocin production.
Oxytocin is a neurochemical that aids in the formation of trust helps to “dissolve” short-term memory, and makes you feel warm all over. Furthermore, studies have discovered that the presence of oxytocin speeds up the physical healing of wounds.
According to studies, even a brief touch of a kind hand can start your oxytocin pumping. When you give or receive a big old bear hug to someone who is in agony, you are not only starting the healing process, but you are also allowing your body to shut down memories of the unpleasant stimuli.
As soon as her infant is placed in her arms and oxytocin surges through her body, a new mother’s recollections of labor fade. Oxytocin makes us feel safe by encouraging us to warm up to people.
Two Lives Are Changed by a Hug
When you donate to a charity, you typically feel proud and satisfied: you’ve done something nice, and that makes you happy. (Whether or not it should be done is another debate.) When we witness others in agony, though, most of us react with empathy—we feel the wounded person’s pain as if we were standing in their shoes. You might need a large hug just as much as the injured soul when you feel empathy and, to some extent, experience their suffering.
Skin contact is necessary for our general health; study has revealed that “skin hunger” really exists. Our bodies release cortisol in response to stress, which enhances the possibility of new social alliances or ties forming. When we are touched by another compassionate human, our oxytocin levels rise. Our bodies are designed to supply and respond to physical comfort, so embrace a hug the next time you see someone in distress or feel as if the world is collapsing around you.
Touch and embrace are the first steps in the healing process. That’s all there is to it.