Hand Holding and Mental Health
By: Beth McHugh 2007
The scientists have finally given us conclusive proof of what we all pretty much knew. Holding hands reduces stress. Researchers at the University of Virginia studied couples who described themselves as “happily married” and found, not surprisingly, that the simply act of touching is a very potent stress-relieving activity.
The women in the study were given mild electric shocks at known intervals and scrutinized to determine the effects of the stress and whether the comforting presence of a significant other had any affect on the level of stress experienced. Using electrodes to measure numerous bodily functions such as heart and breathing rate, the researchers found that women who were experiencing stress during the experiment showed positive signs of stress reduction when their husbands held their hands.
These same women were also tested to see if holding the hand of a stranger had similar results. While the latter did help to lower stress levels, strangers were not as good at reducing stress as were the husbands.
Brain scans were used to measure electrical impulses in the part of the brain that deals with personal threat. When the husbands held their wives hands, the scans showed less activity in this part of the brain, indicating that the women were not under as much stress when they were in contact with a supportive partner.
This is just the latest in a continuing series of studies that demonstrate conclusively the power of human touch. Couple who kiss each other in the morning before leaving work display lower stress levels, including blood pressure, than couples who do not participate in this ritual.
This study clearly demonstrates that the mere act of holding hands is significantly effective in lowering stress levels in women. But the same applies to men as well. The reflex action of touching is one of our earliest comforting memories when our mothers cradled us as young babies. It is obvious that even as adults, the power of touch is still extremely important, and that is why stressed adults and children react positively to a soothing touch. It also explains why massage is also a potent stress reduction tool.
So the next time you feel anxious or someone near and dear is anxious,
offer them a helping hand. It really works!