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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

The Magic of Hugs

Jan 31, 2024 08:27AM ● By Marlaina Donato
Group of people in a family hugging

August de Richelieu from Pexels/CanvaPro

Through the ages, various substances and lifestyle changes have been touted as panaceas, but even in our modern world there is one unexpected soul-elixir that might rival the others—the human hug. Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy, is famous for saying, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Even hugging a pet or stuffed animal can lower blood pressure, take the edge off pain and curb the effects of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines.

During a hug, preferably the 20-second variety, we can experience a drop in anxiety, thanks to a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and a friendly burst of the bonding hormone oxytocin. Hugging our spouse, a friend or someone after church can ward off the common cold while helping us feel less alone in a big world.  

Hugging is a language unto itself, showing others that they matter. Too often, we postpone physical contact, rushing out the door on the way to work. Couples sometimes reserve embraces only as a prelude to intimacy. Children can be deprived of hugs because of generational and cultural reservation. In the end, most of us don’t have enough healthy, non-sexual touch, which can contribute to loneliness, depression and feelings of separateness. Whether we are born huggers or hug-phobic and warming up to the practice, lifting our arms to express affection or support another person can prove that there are safe places indeed.

Here are a few suggestions to add hugs to the day.  

  • Compose “hug certificates” and put them in someone’s birthday card to use throughout the year.
  • Hug a pillow when alone and surrender to the safe-place feeling.
  • Give a child a hug before and after school, after a job well done or just because.
  • Schedule two hugs a day with a partner and make sure they each are at least 20 seconds in duration.
  • To respect possible past trauma around touch, ask someone if it’s okay to give them a hug. 

Marlaina Donato is a visionary artist, composer and author of several books. Connect at