Hugs and Kisses Slash Stress

by Frances Amaroux

From the hallowed halls of science comes another excuse to get close: New research shows that hugs and kisses slash stress. Loving touches — and the resulting gush of good feelings — can cut the level of stress hormones coursing through your body by 7 percent, according to a recent study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Anything from sex to holding hands can do the trick. You get calmer every minute you’re in contact. So go ahead: pop in a movie and spend the evening snuggling on the couch. You’ll be healthier for it.

The stress-snuggle connection was put to the test by Beate Ditzen, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who studied 51 couples for a week, asking them to record their activities and take saliva samples every three hours. The samples were analyzed for levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The results: “Intimacy reduced cortisol levels by improving mood,” says Dr. Ditzen.

A Daily Dose

Every minute spent hugging, kissing, holding hands or having sex translated into a small decrease in stress. Every touch had the same power to soothe. In other words, the 20th hug or kiss worked just as well as the first, and 20 hugs generated 20 times as much stress relief as a single snuggle. Unfortunately, you can’t bank the benefits. Extra physical intimacy today won’t reduce your stress levels later this week. You’ve got to be “in touch” every day.

The benefits of loving touch do stick beyond the front door, however. Work-related stress doesn’t stand a chance if you’ve gotten a good dose of closeness, the researchers learned. Sure, a hug can erase the tension of a tough day on the job. But more than that, intimacy actually protects you from feeling work stress at all, whether you have a crummy office, bad manager, long hours, deadline pressure, interruptions or other job woes. So if the day looks like it has challenges ahead, make a date for a little kissing before or after work, or maybe even sneak some in at lunch.

Happily Ever After
The de-stressing effects of sex and snuggles may explain why happily married couples live longer and healthier lives. Studies have already proven that loving touch can reduce blood pressure and have other health benefits. Scientists have a number of theories about why intimacy is relaxing. For example, a hug can bring on a gush of the love hormone oxytocin, which floods the body and feels great.

Angry hugs don’t work, which might explain why unhappily married couples don’t live any longer than singles. Negative emotions seem to ruin the health benefits and de-stressing effect. So if you want to live happily ever after (and make it last), hold out for someone who makes you feel great.

Try This at Home
If you don’t have a mate handy for hugs, try getting the benefits from friends and family. While the couples in this study were all dual-income with kids, the researchers did not evaluate whether hugs and kisses from children, parents, friends or others might be just as good at scaring off stress. Other studies have linked friendship with good health, longevity and less stress. And Dr. Ditzen agrees that snuggling up to anyone who feels yummy might reduce stress levels.