Free Friday hugs….
“I’ll take part” – I shouted enthusiastically, “count me in”. It was a gloomy rainy day, and I spent most of the day looking out of the window hoping the event will be cancelled…it wasn’t.
So off I went, left work early telling my boss and colleagues that I was going to give free hugs to strangers – they all looked horrified and asked why? I smiled and explained the ‘theory’ behind the concept , adding it will be fun, I’ll step out of my comfort zone…
As I approached the rendezvous café a sudden rush of panic and anxiety came over me, what am I doing? I approached the café and discovered that there were only 3 huggers?? Again my heart began pounding anxiously – Majella’s plan was to cover different corners of Carnaby Street – no I shouted (well in my head anyway) let’s stick together, safety in numbers and all that. Is it too late to back out now – I wondered?
The group walk down Carnaby Street, found the perfect spot and out come the signs and up goes the banner. AT this point 45 minutes of hugging seems like an eternity…
Tentatively I hold up my ‘free hugs’ sign, first low down, so now one can see it. Then, at some point feeling more confident I raised it above my head. Holding it high and proud.
I’m not sure when the turning point was, perhaps after my first hug, but something changed and I was so happy and proud to be doing what we were doing. I began shouting ‘free hugs..come and get a free hug…’ and ‘anyone need a hug?’ ‘It will make you feel better’.
Wow what had got into me – all the anxious and nervous feelings from 15/20 minutes ago had disappeared. I was loving it. I had the hugest smile on my face. I was totally buzzing from the whole experience. I really wasn’t expecting the reactions we got. Most people willingly came up, arms wide open, for a hug, this totally blew me away. And the kindness and gratitude was heart-warming “thank you, I really need that” or “that was great, I really feel better now – thanks”.
I always knew that hugging released a lot of serotonin and oxytocin – the feel good and bonding hormones, and last Friday’s event proved it. Now, I’m not sure if it was the adrenalin, the random act of kindness or the benefits of hugging, but I sure did feel good. And proved to me that people of all ages, cultures and ethnicities and from all over the world love to be hugged.
So the very next day, after dinner at my brothers, I made him and my male cousin give me a proper hug!
Bring on the hugs…Can’t wait for the next free hugging event.
Amandeep is member of the Guerrilla Hugs Board, she is now an experienced oxytocin promoter and advocate of increasing well being for everyone!
Friday 18th March 2011 the weather looked grim, the white clouds stubbornly determined to drizzle all day, what a better time than to go and hug some lovely people in Carnaby Street?
Our Guerrilla Hugs Board Members took seats at a coffee shop to plan their strategic placement, our aims were clear – to bring some happiness to a dull afternoon and raise the oxytocin levels in this small part of London.
Photographers – check
Video – check
Huggers – 1, 2, 3, 4 check
Banner & 2 huggers to hold it – check
Smiles – check
Stickers – check
Free Hugs Boards – check
Ready – not before a big group hug to get us started!
At 4.45pm we were in place, already people looking curious, first hug to the man who grabbed one of our banner holders, one very happy man!
Everyone got hugs including the photographers, passers by stopped for hugs, others asked questions we were happy to explain the science behind the hugs, hugging increases your oxytocin production, the feel good hormone, we all need hugs for our well being.
Plenty of hugs for all the family and a great way to cheer up a grey Friday afternoon. We progressed to the corner of Golden Square. The less busy environment enabled people to see us from a distance and head towards us for hugs! As we were hugging we noticed a police van going past us, and then it went past again…. the third time they pulled up and out jumped an officer who proceeded to hug us all one by one. The officers in the van also got a squeeze and off they went a little more happier from the hugs!
By Gary Wilson and Marnia Robinson
Waiting for a concert to begin at our local county fair, we checked out a reptile exhibit that included an animal trainer with a live alligator resting calmly on his lap. As we stroked the gator, one of us asked the trainer why it was so tame. “I pet it daily. If I didn’t, it would quickly be wild again, and wouldn’t allow this,” he explained.
Amazing. Only months earlier we had begun to grasp the power of bonding behaviors (eye contact, smiles, hugs, skin-to-skin contact, gentle stroking, contented “mmmm” sounds, and so forth) to create emotional bonds without our having to do anything more. We hadn’t realized that reptiles ever responded similarly, but it turns out crocodiles and even snakes have also been known to cuddle up with affectionate mammals.
How is it that caring touch and hugs can be so potent? Because they speak directly to a primitive part of the brain, entirely bypassing the rational brain. Known as “attachment cues” by psychologists, they are at the very heart of our mammalhood. To survive, mammal infants must bond to their caregivers— at least until they are ready to be weaned.
Not only are these generous behaviors the way we fall in love with our parents and children, they’re also the way we bond(ed) with our tribe mates. Smiling, grooming (hair care, tattooing), eye contact, handshakes, hugs, encouragement, and laughing together strengthened the tribe, ensuring that members shared when times were tough and defended each other when necessary.
These special behaviors work by encouraging the release of neurochemicals (including oxytocin, the bonding hormone), which lower innate defensiveness, making a bond possible. Specifically, oxytocin counters the effects of cortisol (the stress hormone), and soothes an old part of the primitive brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to keep our guard up, unless it is reassured with the right neurochemical signals. Oxytocin also reduces pain (i.e., increases pain thresholds) by triggering the release of endorphins. This increases feelings of wellbeing.
Not surprisingly bonding behaviors, which release oxytocin, are good medicine for easing defensiveness. Consider this dramatic example: Adoptive parents had been struggling for years with a Romanian orphan with reactive attachment disorder. Violent, he put over 1000 holes in his bedroom walls, and as he grew bigger his mother had to hire a body guard. Finally, in his teens, the parents tried daily attachment cues (holding his adult-sized body while sitting on the couch). After three weeks, he finally bonded with them, and soon began to form healthy peer relationships as well. (Listen to his ‘thank you’ speech for an award.)
In rare pair-bonding mammals like us, bonding cues serve yet another function. They’re part of the reason we stay in love (on average) for long enough for both parents to attach to any kids. Honeymoon neurochemistry also plays a role, but it’s somewhat like a booster shot that wears off. In contrast, bonding behaviors can sustain bonds indefinitely.
There are some curious aspects to bonding behaviors. First, they need not occur for long, or be particularly effortful, but they must be genuinely selfless. Second, there’s evidence that the more you use bonding behaviors, the more sensitive your brain becomes to the oxytocin that helps you feel relaxed and loving. Third, the more frequent the behaviors, the stronger and more stable the bond—just as the alligator trainer observed.
Discover the power of bonding behaviors for yourself. The next time you meet someone who seems emotionally needy or frozen, see it as an unspoken request for something you have an unlimited supply of: compassion without strings attached. Smile warmly, be attentive, and hug (if appropriate). Hold an expectation that this “wilted” person can improve his sense of wellbeing and wholeness with a bit of generous nourishment.
You may have seen the books which implore you to think yourself rich, or thinner … and you may have thought “rubbish”, or words to that effect. So first of all I really encourage you to take the following short test (Chabris & Simons) to see how good your focus (attention) is … it’s quick (less than 2 mins) simple and confidential, and will give you a good starting point.
For some, the results may have been surprising. Having focused attention means that we can miss what we’re not paying attention to. Many of us have busy lives, and whilst we’re busy focusing on “the next thing” whether it’s meeting that looming project deadline, picking the kids up from school or even what to pick up for dinner from the supermarket … we can miss “things” which could translate into missing opportunities.
Professor Wiseman (2003) demonstrated that people make their own luck. He designed an experiment which asked participants to count the number of photos in a newspaper, and the response would be timed. In the newspaper – which he’d created he had also put in letters “2 inches high” the words “stop counting – there are 43 photographs” … some people – those that described themselves as unlucky, missed those words as they were too busy focusing on the original task of counting the photographs.
© Guerrilla Hugs 2011
We perform physical activity to keep our lungs active and our heart strong. We’re encouraged to eat more fruit and fibre, and a low cholesterol diet for heart and colon health. And for the largest organ in our body … our skin …. Er? In some cultures (e.g. Thailand), it’s “normal” to have a weekly massage … in the UK … not so mainstream. So, what’s important about touch?
Over eighty years ago it was found that infants died if they were deprived of touch. Back in the 1930’s there was a condition known as hospitalism, where children who stayed long term in hospital died through lack of social contact. Fortunately this term has been lost from our vocabulary, as the causes for these deaths were found and eradicated. Spitz (1946) noted:
“At the beginning of our century one of the great foundling homes in Germany had a mortality rate of 71.5% in infants in the first year of life”
Stewart & Joines (1987), in TA Today summarise:
“They [the infants], were fed well, kept clean and warm. Yet they were more likely to experience physical and emotional difficulties than were children brought up by their mothers or other direct caretakers. …. They had little physical contact with those who looked after them. They lacked the touching, cuddling and stroking which babies would normally get from their caretakers”.
Psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated the need for touch with chimps, whereby baby chimps were offered a choice of two surrogate mothers, one made of a wire frame, and food, and the other, no food, but where the frame was covered in soft material. The thinking at the time was babies “just” needed food. He demonstrated that whilst the chimps would feed from the wire frame surrogate, they dashed back to the cloth covered surrogate, through choice and even when fearful, demonstrating that touch to be more important than food?
So, if lack of physical contact in infants caused death, what about this deprivation in adults? Eric Berne (in Stewart & Joines) suggested that “as adults we still crave physical contact. But we also learn to substitute other forms of recognition in place of physical touching. A smile, a compliment, or for that matter a frown or an insult – all show us that our existence has been recognised.”
Substitute? I wonder if there’s a case for having both?
I think it’s fair to say there are cultural norms, social norms, and appropriate codes of conduct in different environments. Most of us would not want to be accosted and randomly hugged by a stranger, however well meaning. I remember an evening out with work colleagues, where a chap I had occasionally worked with, came up to me and gave me a big public hug. I remember being quite upset, as a woman in a male dominated industry I was concerned that this would give out inappropriate and inaccurate signals about our relationship. The mutuality was missing.
Subsequently I changed to a job in training where colleagues may not see each other for weeks on end, and many of us hug on “first meeting”. More recently, in a new job, I find myself moving towards giving a colleagues a hug on “first meeting”, and realise it’s inappropriate for the context. Given that it has the potential to be a bit of a social minefield out there, about what’s appropriate, with whom and when … and whilst I’m all for the spontaneous hug, there can be no harm in asking “can I give you a hug?” Any slight potential embarrassment as you raise your arms to hug, as the other person declines, has to be better than the awkward embrace. Some people don’t want physical contact – and that’s fine too. And of course many people will accept your offer.
Can I give you a hug? Look out for Guerrilla Free Hugs near you!
Berne, E. (1975). What do you say after you say hello? : London: Corgi.
Spitz, R. A., & Wolf, K. M. (1946). Anaclitic depression; an inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood, II. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 313-342.
Stewart, I., & Joines, V. (1987). TA today : a new introduction to transactional analysis. Nottingham: Lifespace.
© guerrilla hugs 2011
Laughter, stress, guilt, fear, etc. are all emotions that produce chemical reactions in the body. The loving touch of a mother/guardian can produce comfort and joy. I am filled with concern when I think of the young people of today; some may never receive touch in the way I did when I was growing up. Some may only only experience the touch of an abuser, which will produce feelings of fear and anxiety. The touch of parents and their children are key to the nurturing and development of the child. A child comes into the world not being able to do anything for themselves and needs the security of a parent.
In today’s fearful society the importance of touch seems to have been lost. Teachers can no longer give a pupil a hug if they fall over in the playground. Professionals working in young people’s care home can no longer hug the children there who very often only need a cuddle to lift them up and make them feel supported.
So what will happen to these young people? I’m not sure that they will understand the benefits of platonic touch, the reassurance of someone showing they care. Statistics show that 1 in 3 girls will get pregnant within their first year of leaving care. For me its seems like this may have a lot to do with a lack of touch, and a misguided truth around physical affection.
Early research from Maslow’s hierarchy shows the importance of security in the well being and development of humans. It can also be see from the instances of neglected children, the terrible affects of not being touched and nurtured as a youngster. The same is also shown with doctor and patient; During sickness or illness, the doctor is like a surrogate parent. The belief and trust we have in the doctor is transmitted and received by touch. One knows this from the sugar pill and medicine experiments. Some people are healed by the sugar pill just like the medicine. It was the belief in the power of the pill that actually healed. Just by the doctor touching us and telling us we will be fine goes a long way in the healing process.
So before we are all lost in the land of no contact and the madness, as common sense slips out the door … give someone a hug today!
© guerrilla hugs 2011