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Skin to Skin Contact with Your Partner Can Naturally Decrease Stress, Boost Your Immune System, and Lower Cortisol Levels

Skin-to-skin contact with a loved one can boost heart health, regulate sleep and appetite, and combat stress and sickness.

Two people hugging it out.
Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

A simple hug can work wonders for one’s physical and mental health. We can credit these health benefits to releasing the miraculous hormone oxytocin.

Physical contact is a key component of social relationships. A good hug’s effects on an individual and their relationships are based on physiological mechanisms involving changes in levels of important hormones.

One of these hormones, known as the “cuddle hormone” or “feel-good hormone,” is oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during physical touch and instills feelings of safety and comfort.

However, it is vital to remember that the positive benefits come with trusted hugs and consensual physical contact. A 2013 study found that such changes do not arise during hugs with strangers of the opposite sex, for instance, because it could be taken as sexually offensive.

Discomfort and a lack of mutual consent during physical touch can instead exacerbate the stress response. Such situations flush the numerous health benefits of oxytocin down the drain.

That said, here’s how a few seconds of skin-to-skin contact can work a miracle for your health.

Stressed? Sick? Nature’s medicine can help out!

The primary stress hormone, called cortisol, guides the normal stress response. High levels of cortisol are associated with chronic stress. This often causes symptoms like anxiety, irritability, fatigue, weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, and a suppressed immune system.

Cortisol activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, enabling it to prioritize short-term survival. Oxytocin can naturally oppose this quality of cortisol, restoring harmonious functioning and focusing on long-term health. Therefore, physical contact with someone you love can help combat stress and improve the body’s ability to fight off sickness.

Sleep deprived? Irregular appetite? Oxytocin to the rescue!

Oxytocin also plays a key role in regulating sleep and dietary patterns. It has been shown to reduce nightmares, help people fall asleep quicker, and stay asleep throughout the night. Moreover, a hug can lead to a feeling of satiation, the kind one feels after indulging in a balanced meal. It tells the brain to stop eating when the body is full, regulating appetite and weight.

Good for your heart in more than one way

Oxytocin delivers a sense of belonging and the feeling of being loved. But apart from the emotional aspect, the hormone physically benefits heart health. A study that included 59 women displayed that more hugs and oxytocin were linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate.

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease, but the oxytocin released from skin-to-skin contact can help counter that. So it may be a good idea to add some holding hands and loving hugs to your daily routine, right next to exercise and a healthy diet!

UK school bans “all physical contact”

But despite all the positives of healthy physical contact, some schools are banning it altogether. Hylands School in England said they will not tolerate “any physical contact” between members of the school community, out of fear of inappropriate physical touch or violence.

The controversial part of the policy is that it eliminates all physical contact rather than promoting positive friendships and bonds. One parent said, “I have a daughter and her and her friends greet each other with a hug, but if they do that now, they’ll [face being] put into isolation.”

Among the stress of school, hugs and healthy contact can foster loving connections, lifelong friendships, and overall happiness. It is absurd that schools today, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic and years of a loss of human connection, would take such an approach to the issue. But the regulations cannot change the fact that oxytocin plays a huge role in improving health and quality of life in children, teenagers, and adults alike.

Outside is frozen, inside is commotion, embrace oxytocin

From a stronger immune system to better heart health to an overall state of relaxation, the perks of physical contact cannot be underestimated. And it all goes to show how humans are social creatures, even at the hormonal level. To keep cozy and healthy and to show your family and friends some love this winter, take advantage of the numerous benefits oxytocin has to offer!

Written By

Hi there! I'm Suhani Singh, a high school student from Redmond, WA. I'm most interested in writing about news and lifestyle. Outside of writing and journalism, I enjoy learning neurobiology and advocating against the commercial tobacco industry.

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