Besides the obvious physical pleasure of cuddling, there is a brain chemistry reaction that has far reaching effects. All those warm fuzzy feelings are nothing compared to the benefits we get from the release of the hormone Oxytocin.
How Does Cuddling Heal Us?
Lowers Our Blood Pressure
The next time you hold someone close, take a deep breath and let it go. Unless it’s someone you’d rather not be hugging, chances are you’ll notice your heart rate and your breathing slow down a bit. As the oxytocin levels rise, they affect the hormones that keep us at the ready for action and allow our blood pressure to drop.
Relieves Pain and Raises Our Pain Threshold
Ever have that feeling that nothing can hurt you because you’re so in love? Well, it was probably the oxytocin. This effect of oxytocin is particularly helpful for women in labor, but has implications for the rest of us too. What’s the first thing we do after jamming a finger? We rub it with our other hand. Even this self-stimulation triggers a release of oxytocin and helps us deal with the pain.
Reduces Social Anxiety
When our brains release oxytocin, we are more likely to have an optimistic outlook about connecting with others, better self-esteem and an easier time trusting those around us. Newer studies are exploring the usefulness of oxytocin (and even supplemental oxytocin) for both post-traumatic stress disorder and autism.
Lowers Levels of Cortisol
Too much cortisol is bad news—for our moods, our weight and our hearts. While stress hormones like cortisol are a good thing when we need to react in a hurry, poor stress management can keep cortisol levels high even when we don’t need it.
Protects Against Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
We hear all the time that inflammation is unhealthy and increases the aging process. Instead of reaching for another bowl of ice cream, consider a little extra cuddle time before falling asleep.
What About Single People?
Hug Your Friends
We associate cuddling and physical affection with romantic relationships, but something as simple as a hug will also increase oxytocin levels.
Play with Your Pet
Studies show that snuggling doesn’t have to be with our fellow humans to increase oxytocin. Any positive touch will elicit a release of oxytocin.
Take a Warm Bath
The physical sensations of warmth can help increase oxytocin flow.