This is Your Brain on Hugs


We never outgrow the need for touch. As infants we are held, rocked, and touched endlessly throughout the day (and night). It is this loving touch that helps infants to survive and thrive in this strange new world. People volunteer in hospital nurseries just to rock the babies who, for one reason or another, may have no one to hold and caress them.

Many people are drawn to babies like a magnet to a refrigerator door. Something almost magical seems to occur when holding a baby or letting one melt into you when he/she falls asleep in your arms. I have nine grandchildren….I speak from experience.

I’ve known people who are uncomfortable with touch, and some are afflicted with illness that causes touch to be a painful experience. However, most , if not many people, continue to thrive on touch and reach out when appropriate to receive that flow of energy from another human being.

Recently, there has been a rise in some of the “healing touch” vocations such as massage therapy. In fact, Wikipedia reports that the massage therapy industry is continuously increasing, with a projected 19% increase between 2008 and 2019. U.S. consumers spend between $4 and $6 billion on visits to massage therapists, as of 2009. Do these figures suggest that, as a society, we are so starved for touch that we are willing to spend billions on it?

Massage was used up until the 1960s and 1970s by nurses to help ease patients’ pain and help them sleep, according to Wikipedia. During a recent hospital stay, I was offered a back rub before sleeping by a wonderful nurse who moved to the U.S. from the Ukraine. She is continuing the practice of healing touch for her patients. She was a doting nurse whose presence brought me great comfort during a time of great distress and pain. I will never forget her.

The Mayo Health Clinic reports some studies have found massage to be helpful with: anxiety, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia related to stress, and more. I believe the human touch is the main ingredient that imparts what we need most: the feeling that we’re cared for through the comforting touch of another human being.

As we grow older we are touched less because we are more independent creatures than we were at birth. Even so, we never quit needing the rich experience that human touch brings to our lives. That’s why grandchildren are important – especially to those of us who may live alone. Through them, we get the experience of touching and holding another human being. It’s especially nice when they get old enough to hug back. I believe that’s one of the reasons grandchildren enrich our lives so much. They love to snuggle (and have their backs scratched), and in doing so, they bring touch back into our too-often sterile lives.

Bring touch back into your life if you’re not getting your recommended daily dosage. See a massage therapist, visit an esthetician who gives foot and hand massages (I’m lucky to have a sister-in-law who is one), hug your child, hug your spouse, hug yourself! Then you’ll experience your brain on hugs, and I bet you’ll be smiling.


  1. Great article. Kathy, your articles are refreshingly unique and inspiring amongst the plethora of articles about aging and living.


    • Maria, Thank you. You made my day! Hugs, Kathy



    Could not agree more, Kathy! Elders especially get fewer and fewer hugs .hope you check out my 36 year old column search Bette Dewing . Written very often about elder needs so often unmet or even recognized. Also the eroticizing (lustualization) of society has so diminished the inestimable value of platonic affection and friendship and familyship love. ETCTERA new owner just dropped column but I will not let it go gently…still hoping to get reinstated. every good wish to you and your important mission. Bette


  3. Thankyou Kathy as always, your inspirational,desired,knowledgable articals bring to our attention what is truly meaningful in our voyage of life.Touch…yes,healing in ways we can only guess…”hugs’ to you Kathy! love Bonnie


    • Bonnie, When can we get together for one of your wonderful, healing foot rubs? I seriously need one before I have surgery on November 1. Thanks for your healing touch in my life. I can feel your hug! Seriously, no one hugs like you do, sis. You’ve made it an art. Hugs back to you. – Kathy


  4. Dale LaPedus

    I am also a staunch proponent of the healing of appropriate touch. Simple gestures like holding a hand, brushing hair or a pat on the back, not to mention a real hug, can strengthen connections. Elders or anyone who lives alone can benefit. Let’s not forget the enthusiastic touch of pets too.



  1. "Hug" Yourself Today / Viv's Blog

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