Hugging Anxiety

Is the art of hugging gender-specific? And I say “art” intentionally, because some people are really good at hugging and go all-in for an entirely natural, smooth, enveloping hug, whether they are the hug-deliverer or the hug-recipient. Others among us, however, haven’t even risen to the paint-by-numbers stage in the art of hugging. When the logical time for a potential hug comes, we’re standing there, as stiff and awkward and bumbling as Richard Nixon in the famous photo with Sammy Davis, Jr. You might as well hug a telephone pole.

A recent study indicates that successful hugging may have gender-specific elements. The study focused on hugs between romantic partners and found that women who hug their partners before a stressful event, like an exam or an important presentation, experience a decrease in anxiety, reflected in a reduction in production of stress-related hormones. Men who got hugged, however, did not experience a similar reduction in those hormones.

I’m wondering if that’s because the guys in the study were experiencing a deep sense of dread about whether they were correctly participating in the hug, or totally botching it in a Nixonian way.

The researchers in this particular study conclude that more research is needed to fully assess the reactions to hugs, including analyzing the effect of hugs between platonic friends and whether a brief hug has the same stress-reducing impact as a prolonged hug. Either way, it looks like more hugging may lie ahead. The hugging-challenged among us should brace ourselves–which we would probably do anyway.

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