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Rev Vicky's Message July 29, 2021

Feeling grateful for the Covid vaccine, one of the many things I am fully enjoying these days is the freedom to hug again (and yet another reason to come back to church). And I’m realizing just how much I missed this vital physical contact. (Thank God for my dog Tohbi and my (sometimes too demanding) cat Meeesch who got me through the shut-down!)

A famous quote by psychotherapist Virginia Satir goes, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Whether those exact numbers have been scientifically proven remains to be seen, but there is a great deal of scientific evidence demonstrating that hugging has a myriad of emotional and health benefits.

But are all hugs created equal?

According to science writer, Alison Escalante, the best hugs have three H.U.G. components:

Hold on tight, Until you relax, and Grow your bond.

HOLD on tight: the best hugs involve a squeeze that provides deep pressure which sends a signal of safety to the autonomic nervous system. This turns down the anxiety we feel from activation of the sympathetic nerve, otherwise known as the fight or flight response – while turning up the calm and connected response from the vague nerve.

Further studies (with babies) showed that the most effective and lasting response involved medium pressure. (Sort of like the Goldielocks effect: loose hugs calm just a little, too tight and the calming effect diminishes, but a medium squeeze creates maximum calming effects.)

UNTIL you feel relaxed: Hugs are not only about deep pressure. When two humans embrace they release a hormone called oxytocin, often referred to as the bonding hormone. It makes us feel wonderful, stimulating the exact opposite of stress, calming us down and turning up our social processes.

I recently read an internet article that suggests the average length of a hug between two people is 3 seconds. But when a hug lasts 20 seconds, there is a therapeutic effect on the body and mind. Escalante noted a similar claim but couldn’t trace it to a scientific article.

In the end, she notes, “the exact timing of a hug may not matter so much as whether we feel the effects of oxytocin. A hug should continue until each person feels the relaxation effect.”

GROW the bond: Finally, by releasing oxytocin, hugging deepens our bond with other people. But it doesn’t necessarily work with anyone. It’s okay to be selective about who we hug, listening to our own internal guidance. (Even in “hug-expectant” environments like church – it’s ALWAYS a good idea to ASK for permission first before hugging someone; and it’s ALWAYS okay to put your hand out for a hand-shake (or elbow out for an elbow-tap during Covid) to indicate your preference.

In conclusion – try a H.U.G.: Hold on tight (but not too tight), Until you feel relaxed, and Grow the bond with someone you trust.

Blessings, Rev. Vicky


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