The “feel good hormones.”

When we touch, or someone we experience as safe touches us – cuddle, hug, or hold hands – our bodies release “feel good” hormones. These hormones include oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. Once the hormones are released into our bodies, we experience feelings of happiness, relaxation, improved mood, and lower levels of depression.

As human beings, we have a need for connection, bonding and touch. From birth, we crave physical affection through hugs, cuddles, and other soothing and safe contact.

It’s important to note that physical affection should not be limited to romantic relationships. Platonic touching, such as hugs between friends or family members, can also have robust mental health benefits. In fact, research has shown the connection between hugs from friends and family members and the perceived levels of social support, stress and anxiety.

Physical connection creates a strong sense of belonging. One of the most common fears is rejection, abandonment, or being an outcast. Physical affection has a powerful effect on our mental health and emotional being.

Physical affection in relationships. Why is it important?

In my work, I have seen firsthand the benefits of physical affection. In my experience in working with children, adolescents and families, difficulties in attachment and bonding are one of the issues that bring some clients to family therapy. Frequently, I have seen a caregiver or parent’s positive effect on regulating their children’s emotions by holding their hand or gently hugging them.

In couples and people in intimate relationships, holding hands, hugs, and tender touches are great ways to communicate love, empathy and affection for their partners. Physical and emotional attachment not only sets the stage for sexual intimacy, but it’s central to offering and receiving pleasure. Some sex therapists often recommend that their clients focus on kissing, hugging, cuddling, and using sensual touch to improve their relationship and intimacy.

What about the nerdy stuff behind physical affection?

First and foremost, physical affection has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and the perception of loneliness. When hugged or held, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone often referred to as the “cuddle hormone.” Oxytocin has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress. Physical affection can help us feel calmer and more relaxed, even amid a stressful situation.

In addition to reducing stress, physical affection has been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. This is because physical touch stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin. These two neurotransmitters are associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness. When we receive physical affection, our bodies produce more of these neurotransmitters, which can help boost our mood and improve our overall well-being.

Hugs help us to feel more connected to others.

Physical affection can also improve our social connection. This is because touch is a powerful way of communicating empathy, compassion, and love. When hugged or held, we feel seen and understood, which can help us feel more connected to the people around us. This sense of connection can be significant for individuals who struggle with loneliness or social isolation.

Of course, it’s important to remember that not everyone is comfortable with physical touch, and that’s okay. It’s important to respect other people’s boundaries and to find ways to connect with them that feel comfortable for everyone involved. For some people, physical touch creates psychological discomfort, so communicating affection and support verbally or incorporating brief written notes of appreciation in your routine can be an option.

For those open to physical touch, it can be a powerful tool for improving mental health and well-being. Physical affection has a powerful effect on our mental health.

When you feel stressed or lonely, consider reaching out for a hug or a comforting touch.

If you have a pet, cuddling or petting it is a great option, too.

It may be just what you need to feel better.