Yet, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna shared a fun fact in honor of National Hug Day: hugging someone you care about can ease stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and even boost memory. Another benefit? It keeps you warm in the cold winter months, which is apparently one reason for the day landing in January!
Thursday is Valentine’s Day in the United States–a day that celebrates giving and loving– so this week’s blog focuses on the subject of love and compassion and how expressing these qualities relates to well-being.
Truly it’s what’s behind the expression of affection that’s been proven to positively impact health–like caring for others and sharing compassion and empathy.
Nurses are finding that the power of touch can be enough to ease pain and suffering. One longtime RN says, “I learned that pain medication sometimes wasn’t enough, but that holding a hand for five minutes often was enough to ease pain and suffering. I learned that a reassuring touch could calm anxiety and get someone through a frightening procedure.” (Amy Sluss, The Power of Touch Learned Through Nursing).
Perhaps behind this expression of compassion in nursing is seeing people not as patients but as people with rich histories and connections to others. I spoke with Beverly Lunsford, who’s been a nurse for 40 years and now teaches nursing and is the director of the Center for Aging and Humanities at George Washington University in D.C. She emphasizes “person-centered care” rather than “patient-centered care” to stay away from the illness model.
Lunsford says she trains nurses to see people not as their disease or the medications they take but as a “larger story” with a bigger life. She said she thinks there’s an awakening going on within healthcare professionals with more and more emphasis on this caring approach. She also said, “A person’s physical health isn’t so much related to their physical capacity as to their mental and spiritual well-being.”
She shared an example of a woman who ended up in a care facility. She’d been a totem pole artist, carving large poles of wood and suddenly she couldn’t do that anymore. You could say touch was her art form–carving, molding, forming the wood into something beautiful. But instead of seeing her as a patient, her caregivers saw the value of nurturing her creative strengths. They gave her clay to carve and she thrived.
Dr. Eben Alexander, the neurosurgeon and New York Times best-selling author I’ve often mentioned on this blog for his book “Proof of Heaven,” says his biggest take-away from his near-death experience could be summed up in one word: Love. He writes:
“Love is without a doubt the basis of everything. Not some abstract, hard-to-fathom kind of love but the day-to-day kind that everyone knows–the kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and our children, or even our animals. In its purest and most powerful form, this love is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional.” He adds, ” . . . this is not only the single most important emotional truth in the universe, but also the single most important scientific truth as well.”
So go ahead–hug your spouse, your children, your pets, your friends. Show them you care. And if they’re not physically present, give them a mental hug of appreciation. They’ll feel it.
“Love is reflected in love” -Mary Baker Eddy