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Pass the Hug

Written by Kirsikka Kaipainen (10 Oct 2014)

Let's hug each other!

Today is the World Mental Health Day. What would be a better time to promote your own and others' mental health? One simple and touching way is to open your arms, smile in a friendly manner and ask the other person "can I hug you?"

Hugging is a genuine way to show affection. When someone is feeling down or going through difficult times, a warm hug can comfort and give the needed support. Humans have an inborn need for touch, which is apparent also in the physiological consequences of hugging. The oxytocin released in the body increases the feeling of security and trust, and lifts mood. Blood pressure is also lowered. Clearly, we need more hugs!

Unfortunately hugging can feel awkward and challenging if you are socially anxious. When you're constantly plagued by thoughts such as "that person couldn't care less about me" or "I'm worth nothing", even talking to someone is a challenge, not to mention hugging them. Tension and stiffness in the body can make hugging feel awkward even if the other person initiates it. Nevertheless, remembering what the purpose of a hug is - to tell the other person without words that you care about them - helps to overcome own insecurity and anxiety gradually.

I know from personal experience that is is easier to tackle challenges when they have some specific and commonly accepted reason behind them. For example, I have learned to express myself in new ways in improvisation, because fellow improvisers have been so encouraging and supporting. That's why Toni and I, who used to be socially anxious, decided to organise a campaign for hugs (see the video above). We have become more comfortable about hugging and it is easier every time. And it always feels good :)

The hug campaign in Finland has been a great success, with more than 20 thousand people participating. Let's continue the habit also after the World Mental Health Day!

Behind the hugs are also the jolly bunch of Orava.co, who are excellent huggers. They are making people feel better by helping them discover a job where they fit in.