Growing up I don’t think I ever would have classified myself as a “huggy” person. Definitely not touchy. I preferred a wave or a handshake verse any closer form of physical interaction.
But with my family, and a few select friends that made it passed some unclear standard, that was totally different.
When I was little, and my dad still drove to work (now he bikes nearly every day), I would wait and watch for my dad to come up the driveway each evening so I could race out and open his door before he could (before he’d even turned the car off) in order to hug him as soon as possible. At bed time, I would hug my mom goodnight and hold on, long past the appropriate time for a hug had passed, until we were both laughing uncontrollably.
Full disclosure, I love snuggling. I slept in my parents bed multiple times a week well into elementary school and if they weren’t receptive a brother or two might be asked to shift over in the middle of the night.
Before I went to college I never thought about the importance of hugs. Even during my first few years it didn’t truly cross my mind. I broke down the hug barrier with my freshman roommate pretty fast, so I honestly didn’t feel at a loss. Sure I might not have gotten a hug every day (or more like many times a day) like I was used to, but when I needed one she was always there for me, even if it meant a break in her relentless studying routine.
But as the years away from home slipped by I began to realize something.
The busy weeks at school, with multiple exams, work and little time for anything but serious activity always felt harder than a particularly busy week at home. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was lacking. Like an essential component of what it means to feel happy.
I often assumed it was just because I was an anxious person, but wasn’t I still an anxious person at home? How come panic attack inducing weeks simply felt different there?
It comes down to one word, four letters.
Hugs! Research from many psychologists has shown that hugging another person releases the hormone oxytocin which is related to building trust and decreasing fear. According to Paul Zak, from Claremont University, who has investigated the relationship between hugs and oxytocin, everyone should give/receive eight hugs each day! My younger self knew what she was doing, capitalizing on every opportunity to hug those around me.
Moving over 430 miles from home this past August has driven this point home even more. Hugs equal happiness, and when they are few and far between sometimes my smile goes with them. It’s not that things aren’t going well in Maryland or that I’m any more busy or stressed than I ever have been. It’s something a little more basic than that. I’m simply far from the people I like to hug most in the world.
After nearly three months away from home, I decided my hug deprivation had reached a critical point, one that could not simply be solved by a single friend, or even two. So, one last minute plane ticket purchase later plus a couple of car rides and 15 minutes lost in a parking garage I found myself sandwiched in the middle of three of my favorite huggers back in my home state.
I took a deep breath, sinking in to the relaxing, familiarity of so many arms.
“I’m so glad to be home.”
Next time the stress or sadness starts to creep in, start adding “more hugs” to the to do list.