Interpersonal touch is becoming an important topic in the study of adult relationships, with recent research showing that such behaviours can promote better functioning relationships and individual well-being. After all, the largest organ in our bodies is the skin. It is also the fastest growing and developing organ, regenerating at an incredibly impressive rate without us even realizing it. The skin acts as our body’s defense from the outside world and as an external data collector for our brain. That’s why the Guardian urges us to pay attention to the great power of a hug.
More and less recent studies have allowed us to discover that when we are exposed to a stressful situation, our body reacts by producing a hormone, cortisol. When we experience social rejection or experience a situation such as the current one in which we are unable to caress, hug, and kiss our loved ones, cortisol goes into action, predisposing us to seek out other people, form new friendships, and build new connections in order to feel protected (Komienko et al., 2016). This helps to understand how community connection between people develops when natural disasters occur. Stress drives us to seek supportive alliances with those who can protect us, or at least comfort us. Similarly, when we give comfort to someone, it triggers a high production of oxytocin, a hormone that drives closeness (Gouin et al., 2010). Increased levels of oxytocin have been attributed to happiness, reduced stress and anxiety. This helps you feel good mentally, but it can also help you feel good physically. At this regard, one study (Cohen et al., 2015) found that people who were hugged and felt socially supported also experienced less severe signs of sickness.
Our bodies are relational, ready to offer and receive comfort. Each hug is configured differently, expressing a different emotion and bond, depending on the relationship and the unique individualities of the encounter. Now, that we don’t have that option, we can turn the embrace into a narrative and give it to those we desire.