3 Reasons Why Giving a Hug is the Least You Can Do This Holiday Season


The weather is cooling down, the days are getting shorter, and the holidays are creeping near. We all hope for a Hallmark-worthy holiday: you know it… the loved ones gathered around smiling and well-posed, the iconic meal perfectly plated with ease, and everyone enjoying each others’ company with thankful hearts and stimulating conversation….

….Yet, those are hard to come by. Instead, the kids chasing each other around with Nerf guns, all the guests are congregating in the kitchen as you cook, and you remember that there’s no possible way all this food can be served hot. And, without fail, that certain someone will have one-too-many glasses of wine - despite your valiant efforts to keep the bottle as far away from them as possible on the table. The conversation will turn awkward and uncomfortable, and you’ll remember why you said last year you were going to throw in the towel and start using the holiday time for personal vacation.


If you’re not looking forward to seeing a certain family member (or all your family members, no shame here) this holiday season, you’re not alone.

When standing toe to toe with a task that feels much too big - like enjoying everyone’s company this holiday season- it is always powerful to start with one small change.

There is one, scientifically proven, small change that you can make this year to benefit those you come in contact with and yourself.


3 reasons why you should be extra generous with the hugs this holiday season:

(even to those you’re not the most thankful for)


It’s pretty common knowledge that all the lovey-dovey stuff releases oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” which gives us that cozy blanket, fuzzy socks, and warm cocoa on a wintery day feeling. Oxytocin also, “promotes feelings of devotion, trust, and bonding,”

and can even make people, “less reactive when faced with potentially threatening experiences.” When released this powerful hormone not only injects you with feelings of smiles and rainbows, but it also fights the stress hormone cortisol that produces tension and panic.

Research by Michael Murphy, PH.D., from  Carnegie Mellon University shows that an increase in oxytocin is “linked to less of a ‘fight-or-flight’ response to stressful situations.” More of the feel-good hormones leads us to feeling safer, more cared for, and less reactive. So incorporating more hugs can not only make you feel happier in the moment, it can also prevent the mid-dinner political debate from becoming too threatening. So instead of focusing on spreading the cheer this holiday season, prioritize spreading the oxytocin.



Although it may feel as if getting physically close to your family this holiday season may make you physically ill, research shows that hugging it out actually makes you healthier.

In addition to lower blood pressure and heart rates, research shows that the increase of oxytocin, provided to you and your loved one during a hug, can help stabilize your immune systems. Carnegie Mellon research study found that individuals who received more hugs and had more social support had less severe symptoms of illness. When we are threatened, or under stress, our immune system responds accordingly, and acts more aggressively than it may need to, leading to increased risk of illness.

If you tend to battle colds when the weather changes for good and the snow starts to stick, being a generous hugger may help you give your immune system the TLC it needs to keep it in check. Murphy added a personal anecdote to his findings, stating that “[He is] far more likely to offer a hug than [he] used to be,” and that it’s now his, “‘go-to’ response,” for when his own loved ones are distressed. See! It even changed the scientist’s ways!



It may be obvious that hugs are good for everyone, and provides both the young and the young at heart, with a more solid sense of belonging. But, there are a few people at your dinner table that may benefit even more than the others from some extra bear hugs this year - the young and the old.

A UCLA study showed that a loving, nurturing, and affectionate environment is linked to a child’s long-term health trajectory. There is a link between how much touch a child receives and their ability to manage and cope with stress when they reach adulthood. So when the kids start to fight and get stir-crazy this year, be sure to give them an extra tight squeeze for their future.

Older adults need more hugs too; they benefit the most from physical contact and the health benefits associated with hugs. In a Swedish study, the older adults who received hugs and physical touch, connected with friends and visitors, and were otherwise active socially, had a tendency to thrive more than less social residents. Proving that both physical and social connectino are vital to keeping our loved ones healthy and happy.


You may not be eager to invite everyone in your family over for the big holiday meal and set up a hugging circle; I get it.

But, maybe the research will marinate on your little Grinch heart and make it grow a few sizes larger this holiday season.

Maybe you will funnel your holiday stress and worry into focusing on making one small change this year, for the betterment of you and those around you.

We all wish for good health and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones during the holiday season - and now we can make that wish come true with a simple hug.

  • Hugging is not for everyone. This post is not meant to encourage a compromise of personal boundaries when it comes to emotional and physical comfort. Always trust your gut when it comes to connecting with others both emotionally and physically. If a hug feels unsafe, don’t do it. Your sense of safety is always the priority. *

Empower Family Therapy wishes you and your loved ones

a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.