• Hug Holiday is celebrated every June 29 and highlights the social role hugging plays in human development and relationships
  • Hugging causes an increase in "cuddle hormone" oxytocin and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol
  • People who receive more hugs are less likely to get ill, scientists have found

It's the perfect day to hug it out. Hugging has always been a good way to express care and affection toward other people, whether it be platonically or romantically. As social animals, humans need it for their development as well, which is why every June 29, Hug Holiday is celebrated.

For those wondering why they immediately feel better after a good hug, science offers a good explanation for that. This is because hugging affects the brain's operation.

When someone touches another person, the pressure receptors on the skin known as the Pacinian corpuscles are activated, Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami in Florida, told NPR. They send signals to the vagus nerve in the brain — an area responsible for regulating several bodily functions, including blood pressure.

The vagus nerve slows the heart down and decreases blood pressure, which in turn causes one to feel calmer and more relaxed.

Citing studies in which people were hugged or had their hands held by their partners when performing stressful tasks, Field said, "They found that, in fact, people who were given this stressful task, if they'd been holding hands or being hugged, they would have a lower blood pressure and lower heart rate, suggesting that they were less stressed."

A friendly touch, such as hugging or hand-holding, also causes increased release of oxytocin, also known as the "cuddle hormone," in the brain and a decrease of the stress hormone cortisol. Oxytocin "promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding," according to Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana.

Hugs can even protect people from developing illnesses, research has suggested. A 2015 study conducted on 400 adults found that those who received a healthy amount of hugs were less likely to get sick or develop severe symptoms when infected.

“Those who reported having the strongest social support shown through hugs were less likely than others to catch a cold. Those who did get sick appeared to have a less severe illness," the researchers said.

The benefits of hugging don't stop there as it is a good way to take care of emotional health as well. Feelings such as anxiety and fear were found to be reduced among people who receive hugs regularly.

Scientists also found that hugs can help one cope with the inevitable. A study published in Psychological Science suggested that hugs decreases fear toward death.

“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” said Sander Koole, psychological scientist and lead researcher.

“This is important because we all have to deal with existential concerns and we all have times at which we struggle to find meaning in life,” Koole added. “Our findings show that people may still find existential security through interpersonal touch, even in the absence of symbolic meaning derived from religious beliefs or life values.”

Although it is recommended to give or receive hugs daily, Hug Holiday provides another excuse to express one's affection and gratitude to loved ones by embracing them.

Orchard owner Stephenie Bailey hugs an AFP reporter after being overcome with emotion on her farm in Batlow, New South Wales
Orchard owner Stephenie Bailey hugs an AFP reporter after being overcome with emotion on her farm in Batlow, New South Wales AFP / SAEED KHAN