Physical Contact can Fight Stress and Sadness

06 February, 2021
Physical contact and social relationships might be an important factor in keeping your brain healthy and stopping your cognitive functions from deteriorating.

In today’s society, increasingly more activities involve direct physical contact. Depending on the person concerned, they might either embrace or reject these activities. This poses a question. Why do some people find it so bothersome, to the extent of it being almost impossible, to come into contact with other people? On the other hand, why’s it so easy for others? (Salgado, Clavic, Montes & Mariño, 2003).

You just can’t argue with the fact that physical contact is tremendously important. In 1969, Hall spoke of this particular importance in connection with how humans tend to use space. In fact, he highlighted how lack of physical contact can alter a baby’s physical and mental growth.

Furthermore, scientists at Duke University in the United States concluded that you need to receive hugs and caresses from the moment you’re born. This is because physical contact plays a very important role in the development of your neurons.

Physical contact with a person you’re fond of means your body releases oxytocin and dopamine. These are neurotransmitters that fight stress and sadness. Furthermore, they produce a sense of well-being. In addition, when you give or receive a hug, your serotonin levels increase. This also improves your mood.

“A hug a day keeps the demons at bay.”      

-German Proverb-

A couple hugging.

The value of physical contact

Contact activates a number of physiological mechanisms that contribute to your emotional well-being. More specifically, physical contact decreases the production of cortisol. This is a stress-related hormone. In addition, it increases the production of oxytocin. This hormone is related to affection. Physical contact also increases serotonin levels that make you relax. Furthermore, it lowers your blood pressure and heart rate.

Specialists at the University of North Carolina in the United States found that, if someone hugs you or holds your hand for at least ten minutes, this can reduce the harmful physical effects of stress.

In other research, physical contact was found to activate the cerebral cortex area. This particular region concerns feelings of acceptance and trust. These results showed that those who relate to others using touch are perceived as being more honest and reliable.

Your sense of touch tends to be rather undervalued. In fact, it’s one of the essential senses you need to survive. This is particularly the case when you’re a baby when contact and cuddles are as important to you as eating or sleeping. Indeed, it’s from there that you naturally progress, from the sole need for physical contact to making eye contact with others.

In short, physical contact protects your immune system, reduces stress, and induces sleep. You need it for your physical and mental health, as well as to communicate with others.

A couple hugging.

Research on the value of contact

It’s long been recognized that extreme loneliness can cause depression, anxiety, dementia, and psychosis, among other disorders. However, a new study suggests loneliness can actually cause more dangerous damage to your brain. Researchers used a group of mice, that are social animals like us, and put them in an enclosure full of toys, mazes, and other distractions. Then. they socially isolated them.

According to the results published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, this social isolation reduced the volume of the hippocampus in the mice. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that’s important for memory and learning.

Although these conclusions can’t be extrapolated to humans, the researchers did suggest some possible parallels. In fact, this research could well be suggesting that you start to take into account how important social relationships are, both for keeping your brain healthy and to stop your cognitive functions from deteriorating.

The same study concluded that prolonged loneliness in adulthood causes brain disturbances and learning deficits. Social isolation in adulthood is a psychosocial stress factor that can cause endocrinological and behavioral alterations in different species. It’s important not to forget this. Thus, the next time you give someone a hug, just remember how much it’s improving your life.

  • Hall, D. (1969). Hall, D., 1969, Bull. A.m. Astron. Soc. 1, 345. Toro. A.m. Astron. Soc. 1 , 345.
  • Pereda-Pérez, I., Popović, N., Otalora, BB, Popović, M., Madrid, JA, Rol, MA, y Venero, C. (2013). El aislamiento social a largo plazo en la edad adulta da como resultado la reducción de CA1 y el deterioro cognitivo. Neurobiología del aprendizaje y la memoria , 106 , 31-39.
  • Salgado López, J. I., Eslava Oriol, I., Montes Lasheras, J. M., & Mariño Pego, C. (2003). Factores a tener en cuenta en la enseñanza de tareas motrices que impliquen contacto físico. Revista de Educación Física.