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The Power of a Hug and Social Support

Around this loving time of year, stress is inevitable. Whether you are in a relationship or alone, a lack of self-love can hinder your ability to manage your emotional hygiene and cause unwanted stress. Being mindful of your psychological health is a topic we emphasize here at TOPPS, but did you know that a simple hug can help? From previous blogs we know that life is full of stressors that are linked to negative health effects. While there are many ways to manage stress, touch or even a hug can help your mind and body deal with stress more efficiently. Moving through life can cause us to neglect basic actions of hugging our child goodbye or giving our significant other a kiss before heading to work. Let’s not underestimate the power of physical touch!

 

Did you know that hugs are actually good for your health? Let’s breakdown the scientific evidence of hugs. You may have heard of oxytocin, the love hormone. This hormone is released in the brain due to sensory stimulation during interactive behaviors, including physical touch (Uvnäs-Moberg, Handlin, & Petersson, 2014). The release of oxytocin has many positive effects, one being stress reduction. In response to stimulation of sensory nerves or low intensity stimulation of the skin, the love hormone’s release in the brain can aid in your ability to handle stress and increases the body’s overall wellbeing (Uvnäs-Moberg, Handlin, & Petersson, 2014). This means that a caring touch from a loved one or a hug from a stranger can spark oxytocin’s release. Even interactions between humans and their pets count. Seems easy, right? The difficult part about this stress reducing method is the fact that not everyone enjoys being touched. Although there are ways to manage stress alone, having social support is helpful.

 

No matter how strong of a person you are, as individuals we do not want to fight our stressors alone. We seek social support, especially during this time of year that is full of Valentine’s Day cheer and relationship fever. Social support is described as “support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community” (Ozbay et al., 2007). This can be friends, family or community members that give their support. Healthy social relationships are seen to be instrumental for good physical and mental health including helping to reduce stress. In fact, the combination of social support and the release of oxytocin has been shown to create the lowest response to stress and least amount of anxiety (Ozbay et al., 2007). There are multiple types of social support. The type of social support given is an important factor when determining stress reduction for certain situations (Ozbay et al., 2007). Ko, Wang & Xu (2013) have suggested that there are five types of social support:

 

  • Emotional Support – This type of support is related to the expressions that include caring, concern, empathy, and sympathy.

  • Belonging Support – This support gives messages that enhance someone’s sense of belonging to a specific group with similar interests or situations.

  • Tangible Support – This type of support is seen as more tangible, such as physically providing needed goods and services to recipients.

  • Informational Support – This appraisal support refers to messages that include knowledge or facts, such as advice or feedback on actions.

  • Esteem Support – Also referred to as validation support, it is defined as the messages that help to promote one's skills, abilities, and intrinsic value.

 

Which type of social support do you find to be most helpful when dealing with stress? While we have mentioned hugging and social support as stress reducers, there are other ways to manage your stress without interacting with others. Some ways include taking a break from the stressor, engaging in exercise, finding activities that make you smile and laugh, mindfulness, and meditation. TOPPS encourages you to seek ways that will help you stress less and love yourself more. Make a list of the people who can give you the support you need this month. Show love to your friends and family members with a warm hug! If your stress is too overpowering, our team of specialized psychologists may be a great emotional and informational support system to assist in navigating your wellness!

 

References

 

Ko, H.-C., Wang, L.-L., & Xu, Y.-T. (2013). Understanding the Different Types of Social Support Offered by Audience to A-List Diary-Like and Informative Bloggers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16(3), 194–199. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3603495/

 

Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social Support and Resilience to Stress: From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 4(5), 35–40. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/

 

Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Handlin, L., & Petersson, M. (2014). Self-Soothing Behaviors with Particular Reference to Oxytocin Release Induced by Non-Noxious Sensory Stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1529. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290532/#B95

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