‘Fully vaccinated’ hugs: The many benefits of embracing loved ones

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new coronavirus guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated. Those guidelines included being able to meet with “unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said these recommendations are a first step to returning to normal activities like hugging grandparents and grandchildren. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, explained the many benefits that come along with those “fully vaccinated” hugs.

Video Transcript

- Mom! Come here. Let me hug you.

- Oh, I love you. I love you.

JOE BIDEN: We are fundamentally a people who want to be with others to talk, to laugh, to hug, to hold one another. But this virus has kept us apart.


- Who is that, Trex? Who is that?

- It's Nana.

- The benefits of hugging are really amazing. They not only include the emotional benefit of feeling close to someone and feeling love for someone, but also, it's very good for physical health. What happens is the moving in the skin as you provide the pressure when you're hugging stimulates pressure receptors under the skin. And what that does is slow down the nervous system so you have less stress hormone being released. And when you have less stress hormone, you save your natural killer cells. And they kill viral cells, bacterial cells, and cancer cells.

There's a study that showed when a couple are together in the laboratory, and they hug each other before they have a stressful test, like a math test, they do much better. And they have less stress hormone-- it's called cortisol-- being released. So that's a psychological benefit. You're less stressed.

You're also less depressed. You feel less anxiety. The physical benefits of hugging are amazing. So what happens is this whole chain of physiological biochemical events. For example, there is an increase in serotonin, which is the body's natural antidepressant and anti-pain neurotransmitter in the brain. There is an increase in oxytocin, which is called the love hormone. And when you get hugged or when you get a back rub, something like a hug, you have better sleep. And when you have better sleep, there is less substance P, with capital P, being emitted. And substance P causes pain.

During this pandemic, we had a survey that showed some 60% were feeling touch-deprived, and only 20% were living alone. So that suggests that 40% were living with someone else, and they still felt touch-deprived. And of course, we know social distancing doesn't really allow us to have hugging. And so people were reporting that they were feeling stressed and depressed and not sleeping well and so forth.

And the one thing that seemed to be saving them was exercise. And it's sort of understandable, because exercise also stimulates pressure receptors under the skin just like hugging does. One of the things people are doing is buying these weighted blankets to sleep under. And those are good because they provide pressure for your skin.

When you think about it, if you're just walking around the room, you're stimulating pressure receptors in your feet. If you're washing your hands, you're stimulating pressure receptors in your hands. So that's what I tell people they need to do until they can hug each other.