Health: Celebrity hug fad could reap benefits

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Sometimes, it’s good to have a nice hug. To know someone cares. To let out all that anger and let in all those hug-released bonding hormones.

Sometimes. But not always.

In brief summary: greeting an old friend in a pub, welcoming family at an airport/train station, comforting an upset child, comforting an upset adult; all in the good hugging camp.

Welcoming a client to a meeting room, saying hello to a colleague back from holiday; not so much.

But it appears not everyone is, erm, armed with the same rule sheet.

In fact, a recent survey about the habits of our nation’s huggers (released to coincide with the new Little Miss Hug book) has shown that while Brits now enjoy on average 825 hugs each year (well done us), 33% of those polled also think that hugging a client or colleague at work is acceptable.

Of course, we don’t know where this 33 per cent work. Perhaps it’s in a nursery, where hugging one’s ‘clients’, i.e. babies and toddlers crying about missing their parent/losing their toy, is presumably par for the course.

But assuming most of these people work in an office, with socially adjusted adults, you can’t help but wonder what on earth they are thinking.

Aside from the HR implications of what is or isn’t appropriate behaviour, there’s the basic manners side of things.

Since when was a handshake - international, equal, historical, safe (no swords) - no longer enough? Too old-fashioned for the new trend of ‘playground’ offices with slides and hubs and ‘inspirational’ coloured walls - started by tech giants with lots of money to make it amazing (read Google), and lamely imitated by those with a little less money (read everyone else)?

Or is it yet another celebrity-inspired fad? We’re so used to seeing all those famous people now, on the red carpet, giddily laughing in an embrace with their co-stars, that we’ve subconsciously equated this to normal behaviour.

But let’s remember that not much about the celebrity world is ever normal. They get paid more in a day than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime; they do things like eating clay to stay thin, and they name their children after compass points. With that in mind, transferring their Hollywood-esque workplace etiquette into our own less gilded offices is never quite going to work out, is it?

Another point of blame is the always-blameable social media. Before you’ve even met most clients, thanks to a scan of their LinkedIn/Twitter, you already know where they went to school, what their pets names are and how their journey home was. This is essentially what you know about most people you’ve actually met/are friends with, and so perhaps it’s inevitable that when you do meet face to face, you’re ever so slightly confused and there’s a little blurring of social boundaries (i.e. going in for that hug).

Of course, hugging in the office is not necessarily all bad.

We’re all working longer hours these days, which inevitably means we spend more time with/grow closer to those we’re stuck in the office with. We’re probably staying in jobs longer, too, since the economic crisis ripped the employment market apart and made us scared to leave, and that will inevitably mean a work friendship is more likely to move to real friendship (in other words, OK hug territory).

And of course, there are all those undeniable health benefits.

“[Hugging is] so important to our everyday lives - emotionally, physically and developmentally,” says Professor Geoff Beattie who conducted the behavioural research and academic review.

“Overall, those that hug more often have happier lives and better relationships, due to the increase in oxytocin levels, a ‘bonding’ hormone.”

And with so many positive things to be gained, does it matter if the hug comes from someone you actually know and love, or from someone you’ve met once and are about to bash out a deal over the conference table with. The ends justifies the means, and all that.

But no. It doesn’t. However you weigh this up, however much you try and extol the possible pros of cuddling your boss, it just doesn’t.

Regular embraces can lower the risk of heart disease, combat stress and fatigue, boost the immune system, fight infections and ease depression, according to a new study.

Just ten seconds of hugging can lower blood pressure and after this time elapses, levels of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin increase, while the amounts of stress chemicals, including cortisol, drop.

According to the Mind Body Green website: Hugging therapy is definitely a powerful way of healing. Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.

Research shows a proper deep hug, where the hearts are pressing together, can benefit you because the nurturing touch of a hug builds trust and a sense of safety. This helps with open and honest communication.

Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.

Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.

Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the production of white blood cells.

Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special.

Hugging relaxes muscles and release tension in the body.

Hugs increase circulation in the soft tissues, helping ease pain.

Hugs are so much like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be in the moment. Hugs get you out circular thinking patterns.

PIC: Tony Johnson

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