Tips with Trish: Benefits of a hug

Tips with Trish: Benefits of a hug

Dear Trish,

I think I’ve done well adjusting to college life so far. I get along pretty well with my roommate, have passed my first few tests and am finally sleeping despite occasional fire alarms. I wouldn’t say that I’m really homesick but I will admit I have days where I miss the same siblings that I couldn’t wait to get away from! Someone hugged me the other day and I remember noticing that it felt kind of foreign and sort of made me miss home. My parents came in town this past weekend for family weekend and my mom even asked if I was okay because I was “a little clingy”. Am I homesick?

Signed, Miss touch

Trish says,

Homesickness is definitely not uncommon, especially for first year students. I don’t think that’s what’s going on with you, though. I think it has more to do with you needing some touch. Virginia Satir, an often quoted family therapist, has been known to say that “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth,”  and although I have heard and believe this, I decided to do my own research. I found out that it is generally true. Hugging has lots of benefits and can be really good for us. 

From an early age we learn that good touch translates to love and belonging whereas bad touch leads to feelings of isolation and distrust. We also know that lack of touch can translate into emotional and physical neglect which can later lead to higher levels of anxiety or depression. You seem to have adjusted pretty well to college life but because you are probably just starting to find “your people” you may not be able to meet your quota for 4-12 hugs yet.   

We hug others when we are happy, sad, excited, or trying to comfort. Scientists say that giving and receiving a hug can reduce stress for both the giver and the receiver because oxytocin levels rise when we hug or touch someone (Cirino, 2018). Oxytocin is a chemical in the body that scientists call the “cuddle hormone” and it can heal feelings of anger, isolation and loneliness by elevating one’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is the very hormone that creates happiness (Andersone, 2018). Hugs can relax tension in the body, can take away pain and sooth aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues. The association of tactile sensations and self-worth are also clearly connected.

A study done with over 400 adults even showed that hugs can also protect against illness. The participants with a greater support system were less likely to get sick and those that did get sick, experienced less symptoms than those without a good support system. People who are involved in intimate relationships also seem to show lower blood pressure levels as well as reduced heart rates (Healthline.com, 2018).

So my best guess is that you just need a little more touch. Whether it’s a hug, a pat on the back, or even sitting close to someone on the couch, do it. Or at least don’t be afraid to ask someone for a hug. Those of us on the fourth floor of the ACC are pretty generous with them so stop by Counseling Services or Spiritual Life! And if you’re generally not a toucher, this is not meant to say you should be giving or getting hugs. It is just meant to point out the benefits of touch in improving your overall well-being. Consider it.

Sincerely, Trish 

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Tricia Borelli is the Director of Counseling Services at Loras College. In Tips with Trish, she will answer student questions concerning anything that relates to keeping it together while doing this crazy thing called college. Send questions or comments to Ms. Borelli, Loras Box 100, or to the e-mail address tricia.borelli@loras.edu. All names of those sending questions will be kept confidential.

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