Humans Need Four Hugs a Day for Survival, But If We Want to Grow, We Need Much More

On the power of hugging.
ILLUSTRATOR BRYLE B. SURALTA

Have you gotten your daily dose of hugs yet? Our survival and growth apparently depends on them.

The pandemic rendered hugs obsolete. There hasn't exactly been a lot of research about the effects of the pandemic on intimacy; not just sexually, but emotionally and mentally, too. Perhaps we don't need to validate this sentiment in a scientific sense. Living through the isolation that came from the lockdowns was a universal undertaking. Proof was everywhere. And most of us struggled mightily. Our mental health deteriorated to some extent. We had our social skills reprogrammed. Apart from losing our sanity, we lost touch (literally).

If we were to get into some numbers just for the sake of this conversation, we can look at a paper that was published in the American Psychologist journal this year. It says that across 34 studies spanning four continents (mainly in North America and Europe), there has been about a five-percent increase in the prevalence of loneliness. And this comes from a group with more than 200,000 participants. In the Philippines, we've seen an uptick in depression and anxiety during the pandemic, as well. 

So how does hugging factor into all of this?

Well, mainly due to social distancing, hugs were scarce during the COVID-19 crisis. Embraces turned into fist bumps and thoughtful nods turned into blank unsure stares. There was an epidemic of loneliness. Everyone was navigating the unfamiliarity of this new world order. Affection, in general, was in short supply.

There was this social ambivalence and apathy. The modalities in which we used to communicate in (think high-fives, shrugs, smiles, pats on the back or shoulder) drastically changed. Our consumption of pleasantries and coping mechanisms evolved, for better or for worse.

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We can't really blame anyone for it. It was a pandemic, for crying out loud. We knew we had to play it safe. 

But touching, as studies point out, triggers the release of "feel good" hormones, like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. It is said to improve our mood, lead us toward happier paths, and lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Hugs have proven to be even more beneficial to our overall health, as well. They're not just a symbol of support, but also of care and humanity, in a macro-psycho-social-cultural kind of way. The late great Virginia Satir, who was a world-renowned American author and family therapist, once said of the daily hug count: 

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

Let's get into the nitty-gritty of it a little bit. First and foremost, and this might be common knowledge by now, hugs are a natural stress-reliever. They can decrease the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Some research even says this can mean reduced blood pressure and heart rates in stressful predicaments. Affectionate relationships also indicate healthier, fuller hearts (romantically and cardio-vascularly).

Interestingly, research has also shown that hugging reduces someone's chances of becoming sick. When people fall ill, those who have a greater "support system," where hugs come in, have less severe symptoms than those with little-to-no support.

On anxiety, hugs can greatly impact the psyche of those who have lower self-esteem. In a post-pandemic world, all we have now is existential dread. Everyone's dealing with an absurd world, and fears and anxieties about the future are elevated. While touching doesn't exactly solve the uncertainty, it does mitigate existential fears, as some scientists have said.

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Even hugging our pet or a teddy bear or a child's play thing can ease our burden. They can, at the very least, helps us cope better with them.

Meanwhile, if we want to speak of the power of hugs in plainer terms, hugs issue a net of safety and belonginess. It exhibits the best of what tenderness can offer. A lot of us took hugs for granted in the past, whether we like to admit it or not. Hopefully, we won't make the same mistakes this time around.

Hugs literally aid our holistic growth. More importantly, they compel us to be better, kinder people to our fellow man and to ourselves. Hugs are meant to enrich our existence. The data on physical touch and hugging—and the incessant longing for connection and security—don't lie. It sounds corny, right? But that doesn't change the fact that hugs are integral to our well-being. We need hugs to survive. We need hugs to thrive. We need hugs to be healthy. We need hugs to be human.

So go hug someone today. Get those daily reps in (but Jesus Christ, please ask them first).

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is the assistant section editor of Esquire Philippines.
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