REAL LIFE

How to hug YOURSELF!

Hug expert invents the 'self hug'
Supplied
  • Scientists have proved that hugging someone for 20 seconds releases serotonin – the happy hormone
  • Studies also show hugs can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety and even improve your memory
  • Shirley-Anne Joy, whose full time job is hugging, invented the ‘self hug’
  • She now teaches people how to hug themselves to make them feel happier, how to overcome their fear of being touched, and even how to hug over the phone so they can stay in touch with loved ones across the world
  • Here, Shirley-Anne, 61, from Newcastle, NSW, shares the story in her own words:

There’s nothing quite like it, is there – melting into someone’s chest, snuggling into their shoulder and feeling the warmth of their arms around you? I love hugging!

Growing up, I was one of 11, which meant my parents didn’t really have time for lots of cuddles. So when I had my children, Jillian and Clinton, I made sure to embrace them every single day, several times a day! But once they’d left home, I found myself alone with this intense yearning to hug. One day, I told a friend about it over coffee.

‘I want to hug, but I’m not sure how to go about it,’ I tried to explain.

‘I dare you to hug everyone in this cafe,’ she grinned.

Not one to turn down a challenge, I asked the owner if he’d like a hug.

‘Why not!’ he laughed, holding out his arms.

Next, I hugged the waitresses. Then I asked permission to hug the customers. I got the hug bug! The next day, I went to the beach.

‘Would you like a free hug?’ I asked passers-by.

Some said no, others gave me a quick hug and a pat. Others nestled right in.

‘I really needed that,’ one woman smiled.

Another lady broke down sobbing on my shoulder. ‘I was having such a bad day,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’

It made me realise how much I loved giving and receiving hugs. The important thing was not to judge anyone. I snuggled into skateboarders, homeless people and workers in suits. But my favourites were the hunky male surfers! From then on, I set up hugging stations every week, with a sign that read, Free hugs here!

I hugged people in the street (Credit: Supplied)

I knew that hugging lifted my spirits, and after some research, I learnt that hugging someone for 20 seconds releases serotonin – the happy hormone. Scientists have proved what I felt!

I wonder if you hug yourself for that long, whether the same thing happens? I thought. So I wrapped my arms around my body and counted to 20. Nothing. I tried putting my right hand to the left side of my face and my left arm on my right hip. Still, I didn’t feel anything. Playing around, I placed my hands on pressure points on my face and on my heart.

Oh wow! I sighed. That’s really working!

Like any new invention, I kept it a secret while I fine-tuned it. Meanwhile, I made up T-shirts and a banner offering free hugs and continued to hit the streets. One day, I saw a man watching me.

‘Would you hug me?’ he asked nervously.

‘Of course,’ I said, enveloping him in my arms. He clung to me before stepping back with tears in his eyes.

‘You have no idea how much that meant to me,’ he said. ‘I got out of jail six months ago and I haven’t been touched in years. I’ll never forget you.’

Another time, I hugged a couple and their kids. Afterwards, a mutual friend told me they’d gone home and hugged all evening. Then the teacher from their son’s school had phoned to say he’d been calmer and happier. 

See, hugs have serious healing power! Studies have found they can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety and even improve your memory. My self-hugs made me feel so much better, I realised I wanted to teach other people how they could hug themselves.

I teach people the ‘self-hug’ (Credit: Supplied)

So in 2013, I created a Facebook page, Hugging the world to healing, then I invited people to a hugging class. It was such a success that I travelled around teaching my techniques. I told people about 20-second hugs, bear hugs and my self-hug.

‘If you’re going to hug someone else, make it count!’ I said, urging them to hug with intention. I did have a warning though.

‘Hugging increases the levels of the love hormone oxytocin, so hugging a partner can lead to sex!’ I joked to the class.

Now hugging is my full-time job. I can help people overcome their fear of being touched. Some have been abused or hurt in the past, while others were forced as children to hug an aunt or uncle who smelt terrible and it turned them off hugs forever. I even teach people to hug over the phone so they can stay in touch with loved ones across the world.

With 23 nieces and nephews, six grand-nieces and nephews and a grandson, I have plenty of people to hug these days. But I’ll never stop hugging strangers.

So spread the love, share a hug – they can make the world a better place.

The power of hugs

➤ Psychotherapist Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy, famously said, ‘We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.’

➤ Amma is the world’s most famous hugger and is widely regarded as one of India’s foremost spiritual leaders. She says that her religion is love, and throughout her life has embraced more than 34 million people.

➤ ‘Cuddle therapy’ is available in Australia, where you pay someone to come and cuddle you.

➤ The average hug lasts just three seconds long.

➤ Hugging has just as much a benefit for the person doing the hugging as the person being hugged.

➤ Hugging boosts our self-esteem as it shows us we’re loved and special.

This story was originally published in that’s life! Issue 48, 2016.

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