Employee Spotlights

Happy Hug Day!

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We hug others when we’re excited, happy, sad or trying to comfort because hugging makes us feel good. Hugging is so important it has its own day!

Today is National Hugging Day encouraging us to exchange hugs for our overall wellbeing. It turns out that hugging is proven to make us happy AND healthy. We could read about the abundance of studies that tell us how hugging, improves one’s physical, emotional and spiritual health.

huggingOr we could simply ask 7-year-old Kensie Wilson, and her mother, Kelsey, life enrichment assistant at Flagstone in Eden Prairie, MN. The Wilson family volunteered a good part of their Christmas Day last month to visit the residents of the care center. Kelsey explains, “We felt it was special to our family to give some of our holiday to the residents.” Kensie was all in.

When 104-year-old Peggy saw Kensie wearing her new Christmas pajamas, “her face lit up right away,” said Kelsey. Kensie gave Peggy a big hug and, “she just cried,” Kensie remembers. Kelsey adds, “Kensie and Peggy made ALL of us cry. It was magical and beautiful to be part of it.”

Holding Peggy’s reaction in their hearts, Kensie and Kelsey went down the hallways asking every resident, “Do you want a hug?”  Kelsey explains, “We knew that Christmas was a day that everyone needed a little extra love.”

When Kensie reached out to resident Elaine, she says, “She just started hugging me, and she was so happy. I thought she was never going to let me go.”

They walked by Robert’s suite and he called out to invite them in. In the Christmas spirit, Robert gave Kensie her choice from a collection of stuffed animals. She picked a big brown-and-white puppy that has become one of her favorites. She says that whenever she hugs the puppy, she thinks about Robert and the hug they shared.

“Do you want a hug?” Kensie continued to ask. Flo, Joanne, Lorrine, Rosemary and others all said, “Yes!”

Grab your hankie and enjoy the slideshow of Kensie’s Christmas hug fest:
(Photos courtesy of Kelsey Wilson)

Kensie says she sees how “hugs make people feel happy and a hug can make someone’s day.” And she listens to her intuition. “If they’re feeling sad or lonely, I can kind of tell they need a little love,” Kensie explains. “I just love these moments.”

Kensie was surprised to learn that when she hugs a resident, she’s not only making them happier, she’s making them healthier.

The health benefits of a hug

According to scientists, the benefits of hugging go beyond that warm feeling you get when you share an embrace. There’s a scientific reason that a welcomed hug makes us feel so good. A hug can release the hormones and neurotransmitters that improve our mood, health and wellbeing. Overall, these “brain chemicals” pack a powerful punch.

Studies have shown that hugs and other positive touch:

Promote dopamine release involved in the experience of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation.

Promote serotonin release that assists in the feeling of general well-being and happiness

Release oxytocin, affectionately known as the “cuddle hormone,” that helps to build social and interpersonal bonds and has been shown to help reduce negative feelings such as loneliness, isolation and anger.

Decrease cortisol that is involved in the body’s stress response, thereby helping to reduce stress-related illness, including the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

And if that isn’t enough, all these benefits of hugs are reciprocal. A hug impacts the levels of these hormones and enzymes in both the hugger and the receiver, so you’ll both reap the benefits. It’s no wonder that a good hug can leave us feeling happy, relaxed, and content with the world.

Of course, reasonable care should be taken with those who are either uncomfortable with public affection or their reaction to a hug is unknown. As Kensie and Kelsey demonstrated, we should always ask first and exchange consent before sharing a hug.

The science and our experience show that the more we hug each other, the happier and healthier we’ll be.

So, there’s one simple thing you can do each day that may be the most important action you take for the health and happiness of the people you care for and love: Give them a hug.

Learn more about volunteering at a PHS community

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