Research seems to cover every random topic these days.
They even study hugs!
Findings prove that hugs work to elevate both mood and physical health, even when it comes from the arms of a professional in an office, clad in white coat (aka me!). There is so much personal touch to a hug, so much it conveys. The warmth that extends from one body to another, just in the form of a touch, can mean so much.
The question is this: can hugs help ward off illness?
Another resounding yes.
Hugs have, believe it or not, been shown to be associated with a strengthened immunity when it comes to fighting off those bad germs. A study highlighting this finding was covered by the Journal of Psychological Science, in a study titled, Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. It’s long and winded, but the basic premise is more hugs, less viral infections. (Scientific American also covered this topic in an article titled A Hug A Day Keeps the Doctor Away.)
In the Office
A patient who resorts to tears in conveying their emotions is experiencing a lonely moment, a vulnerability. When this plays out in front of me, I make a bee line for the kleenex. Elementary. But sometimes there’s a need for just a touch more. As a physician, I try and read patient cues and pick up on that need.
Can the patient use an embrace at this moment?
I may not always be right, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. I have yet to meet the patient who is not appreciative of this simple gesture. It can’t be billed for, sure, but it’s a procedure that’s still worth every practicing practitioner’s time.
To a patient who’s having a bad day, a hug can mean the difference between leaving the office with that same nagging negativity or leaving with hope, even if it’s in the shape of a warm, fuzzy feeling, or a smile.
I believe it tells my patients, “I’m here for you,” and, at that moment, that may be all that they need.