Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Touch reduces stress, increases joy

Yesterday we talked about relationships and the happiness they add to our lives. Today I want to focus in on the power of touch. Hugs, pats on the back, a hand on your arm during conversation—these things are powerful parts of relationships.

Studies show that it's not just a psychological reaction but that the power of touch also is physiological. Our brains react when people touch us. A powerful brain chemical called oxytocin is released, and that sets off an entire chain reaction. Interestingly, not only does that send our happiness levels skyward but it lowers production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

It isn't only the touch of a loved one, special though that is. We know our happiness is heightened and our stress levels lowered when we receive a massage, have a pedicure or manicure, get high-fived by someone or even receive a warm handshake from a stranger. I have a friend who, when she and her husband joined a new church, decided to take on the roll of hugger. At first she noticed several people were fairly stiff when she hugged them. It didn't take long, however, before people began hugging back. And soon they were asking for a hug if she was too slow to give one! The power of touch.

It doesn't take much, does it? Knowing that, can you "reach out and touch someone" today? Reducing stress, increasing joy—what's not to love about that?

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