It’s that time of year when the nights are drawing in and the streets are lined with an array of stunning London Christmas lights, which bring in crowds from near and far. The questions at the forefront of many peoples’ minds right now are along the lines of, “Will London get snow?” or “Will London have a white Christmas?” or more aptly this year, “Can London survive Brexit?”
Yet it’s also important to remember self-care during the winter months and we’ll be looking at a set of different questions in this post, namely, what is hug therapy and what could it do for me?
Hug therapy or cuddle therapy as it’s more commonly known, is a form of therapeutic touch involving hugs, hand-holding and gentle arm rubs along with talking therapy, which has a range of positive benefits for our mental and physical health. You may think that cuddles are nice, but did you know that cuddles can also heal? They release a number of feel-good hormones and also activate the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us feel calmer and more relaxed.
Perhaps with the cold weather settling in around us, you may already feel that cuddles would be perfect right now, so in this article we’ll look beyond the usual reasons why London is great in winter (London landmarks, London Skyline and London xmas markets etc.) and instead focus on this amazing new form of wellness, because after all cuddles are awesome! These are just some of the reasons why cuddles really are the best medicine.
1) Hugs can help reduce stress levels
As we head into one of the most stressful times of the year in the run-up to the festive period, it’s useful to understand what we can do to keep stress in check. When we hug, feel-good hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin are released, while levels of the stress hormone cortisol go down. Cortisol has an additional negative effect in that it kills natural killer cells, which are the front line of our immune system’s defence. Hugs also trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to calm us down after stressful events. This is something Rebekka spoke about in her recent Time Out London talk at Samsung KX, which you can watch here.
2) Touch can tackle depression and mental health issues
Grey skies, cold weather and biting winds can take their toll. For people suffering with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, winter may even amplify negative thoughts and feelings. However, when we receive touch, oxytocin and serotonin are released, which make us feel less pessimistic and clients even report being able to look at difficult situations in a new light, where things seem less daunting.
Crucially serotonin has been described by Dr Tiffany Field as a natural anti-depressant, and that can help tackle anxiety and depression. In her book, Touch, Dr Tiffany Field refers to a meta-analysis of 17 studies which suggest that depression can be alleviated by receiving massages. In addition, clients with PTSD have also noticed positive outcomes through hug therapy sessions. So if you need a hug when you’re sad, or when you’re crying – you’ll be able to find a warm hug or embrace waiting for you with one of our practitioners.
3) Hugs can help tackle loneliness and social isolation
For all the many incredible things it has to offer, London is also a lonely place sometimes. In the winter, it almost feels like we wake up in the dark and head home after in the dark with little to break this monotony. While those around us or on social media seem to be living it up, we may get that FOMO feeling and wonder, when will our loneliness end?
Who experiences loneliness? There are around 9 million people who are lonely in the UK. London is ranked as one of the loneliest cities in the world and according to a 2016 survey from Time Out London, around 55% of Londoners feel lonely some of the time. However, while we may have this preconception that it’s usually older people who are lonely, the statistics tell a different story. The Time Out survey showed that 66% of people aged under 24 felt lonely some of the time. It’s difficult not to wonder whether things like social media are playing a role in our loneliness epidemic.
Why is loneliness dangerous? Loneliness can have the same impact on our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s twice as deadly as obesity and increases the risk of high blood pressure, coronary disease and cognitive decline. You can read about more of the impacts in our previous blog post.
However, there is some reassuring news. In 2017, research carried out at UCL found that affective touch can help mitigate the effects of social isolation. This means that hugs can help us feel less lonely. Unsurprisingly, the Campaign to End Loneliness mentions that 46% of lonely people miss having hugs. So when loneliness feels overwhelming or becomes unbearable, maybe a hug therapy session could be just what we need to get our mental and physical wellbeing back into shape.
4) Hugs can improve immunity
Hand sanitiser at the ready? Whether we’re on the tube, in a store or at work – people around us are coughing, snuffling and red-eyed from the effects of flu and colds that are doing the rounds at this time of year.
If you’re looking for a natural way to improve your immunity to reduce your chances of getting ill, you may be interested in research that came out of Carnegie Mellon University. It showed that more frequent hugs can help protect from an increased risk of infection that’s linked to stress. When illness systems arose, they were less severe.
As mentioned above, there is also a link between our immunity and stress as cortisol kills our natural killer cells, which are responsible for warding off a host of cells including viral cells. So hugs could play a role in keeping us healthy throughout the winter.
5) Hugs allow us to make time for self-care
Is self-care important? Absolutely. Is self-care selfish? Definitely not. We are all living busier lives and rarely have time for ourselves to unwind and just stop for a short while. Whether we’re at work or on our phones, we’re constantly on the go and sometimes miss out on time for rest and relaxation.
Claudia Hammond addressed this issue in the Guardian, writing that, “We need to learn how to relax, without guilt.” She promoted a survey by psychologists from Durham University, called the ‘Rest Test’. This survey was comprised of 18,000 people from 135 countries and found that two-thirds of people would like more rest. The researchers found that reading was the most restful activity, while 38% listed walking as being restful.
Self-care and rest at Christmas can be particularly important given that we’re sometimes in stressful situations. So it’s worth taking some time to factor in self-care to reduce stress before and after the festive break.
A hug therapy session is both comforting and nurturing and seeks to help you de-stress and unwind and could therefore be an option to consider over the coming weeks.
6) Touch can improve attentiveness
Sometimes it’s hard to feel anything but tired over the winter months. So how can we function at our best through these months? Touch therapies could play a role.
Writing in Touch, Dr Tiffany Field states that, “Moderate-versus-light-pressure massage stimulates pressure receptors under the skin, which is associated with increased attentiveness.” She also explains that, “The vagus nerve has a branch to the heart which slows heart rate. Increased attentiveness is often associated with decreased heart rate.”
She also suggested that alertness can increase after massage therapy. Her department conducted a study, whereby people were given 15-minute massages at work during their lunch break. They found that when given computations to perform, the time taken to complete them was reduced and accuracy increased. When combined with an electroencephalogram (EEG) analysis, it suggested that alertness and cognitive performance were enhanced through the 15-minute massages.
The good news is that the benefits of cuddling can be extrapolated from massage therapy data, as Dr Tiffany Field explains in a Guardian article. Rebekka has experienced a number of these cognitive benefits through her work as she explained in her TEDx talk.
Hug therapy near me
As this post shows, there are numerous reasons why cuddles are important and good for you. Not only that, but hugs can also be quite uplifting in this cold and dark time. The winter months are also host to National/International Hug Day, which falls on Tuesday 21st January 2020, so be sure to mark it in your diaries.
Hug therapy is a rejuvenating experience in London for Londoners, and needs to be tried to be fully appreciated. We also have an Airbnb experience in partnership with Pop&Rest, which is popular with tourists.
Nordic Cuddle has a growing list of trained practitioners and all our UK practitioners are DBS-checked for added peace of mind. If you’d like to try our cuddles service, we currently have a festive discount for the month of December. Our hug voucher offers £5 off the cost of any session on our site. Simply add the coupon "xmas2020" to your booking, under the “Enter a coupon code” option.
Book yourself a hug therapy session here!