In working with patients of all types of conditions and diagnoses, it’s always comforting to see them hand in hand with their significant other through the thick and thin of it. Not only because I know that they are receiving the support they need, but also because I know that they are benefiting their health as well.
You heard right! Physical touch such as hugs, hand holding, cuddles, and kisses do more than just make you feel good. It’s actually a large benefit to your physical and mental health.
Physical Touch Benefits Your Health
Studies have long pointed to the fact that close relationships are related to good health, and it’s really no surprise when you think about it. (1)
It Begins At Birth
From the moment a baby is born she craves physical and social connection, specifically with her mother.
American psychologist Harry Harlow conducted an experiment called the Harlow’s Monkey Experiment which helped explain a bit more about this phenomenon.
The experiment involved newborn monkeys being isolated in a cage with an inanimate representation of their mother. Some monkeys were given a wooden statue covered in cloth, and others were given a wire mesh statue. Both statues had a way to provide milk to the baby monkeys.
Harlow found that the monkeys didn’t just interact with the statues to receive nourishment. When in stressful situations, the monkeys with the cloth mother would cuddle with it for comfort. The monkeys with the wire mesh mother, however, had to find a way to comfort themselves as the statue provided little positive connection.
This experiment taught us that the mother to child connection isn’t solely based on the fact that the mother provides warmth, safety and food. The bond is equally an emotional one of acceptance, love and affection. (2)
This mother to child connection helps to build pathways for serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, which all help the body regulate mood and eventually assist the child to develop other healthy relationships throughout their life.
And Moves Into Adulthood
Humans are built for physical connection, and respond positively to it. As adults, romantic relationships provide us with this same physical connection that we crave.
Studies show that holding your significant other’s hand actually causes your brain waves to sync together. This type of connection gives you confidence that someone truly cares about you and loves you, which is a great benefit to your mental health. (3)
Intimacy has also been related to lowered levels of stress. Receiving physical comfort from a significant other during a stressful time can help you to feel more calm and confident. (4)
We all love receiving physical affection from our significant other, be it a hand to hold or a long embrace. And all the more reason to keep up the affection! Now you know that this type of contact is not only a way to show each other that you care, but also a way to keep each other healthy both mentally and physically.