People seeking health pay a lot of attention to diet, exercise and sleep. And rightfully so. What we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how often we eat... What exercise we do, how long for, how frequently, in what environment... When we sleep, how long we sleep, how deep we sleep, what we do before we sleep and how we wake up... All perfectly valid, important things to factor in when optimizing our health as "human animals". But we often neglect another part of our lives entirely.
Humans are social animals. We were made to cooperate beyond breeding and child-rearing. We are designed to live in a complex social environment, with leaders, followers, workers, soldiers, craftsmen and even serfs and slaves. We were designed to each serve a purpose and fulfil a task. But we ignore that that alone doesn't a "social animal" make. Indeed, that structure, on its own, is a HIVE. And humans were not made (neither by nature, nor by the gods, nor by evolution, nor by ourselves) to be hive creatures. We are SOCIAL animals. And social animals, on top of the aforementioned, have frequent physical contact. They rub, nuzzle, pat, rest, headbutt, paw, nibble, lick, groom... Some even hug and kiss. And this isn't just between breeding pairs or parents and children. Their entire dynamic, as social animals, is based on communication, a huge amount of which is physical and mostly involving touch. But humans seem to have moved away from that.
We live in a socially cold world, where we don't know most people we see and are continually slightly on edge due to a natural fear of unknown humans. We shun public displays of affection. We send kids to schools where a teacher giving them a comforting hug or a pat on the shoulder is sexual harrassment. We teach boys that contact is for sissies and girls that their bodies are private temples, never to be touched. Many people fear even becoming too physically close with their friends as, in this overly sexualized world, we perceive any physical attention to be sexual or inappropriate. Many people don't share living space with family or a partner, meaning they very rarely get physical contact. Some people don't even get a hand rested on their shoulder or a palm to the middle of their back when talking informally with friends, teachers and co-workers. Everything is cold and professional.
And yet, we often ignore this side of ourselves and don't seem to understand how crucial it may be to regain control over it. Almost every form of friendly contact releases oxytocin, endorphines and other "happy hormones", making you feel joyful and comfortable, leading to a greater trust of that person, as well as empathy toward them. All these things improve social interactions in any environment, professional or social alike. Kissing, nuzzling and hugging rubs some of our own pheromones onto the other person and some of theirs onto us. Whilst humans perceive pheromones far less than other animals, we do still appear to pick up on them slightly and our subconscious appears to still use pheromonal cues in social interactions. This enhances the bonding experience, meaning we're more closely bonded to people we hug and kiss often, like very close friends, family and partners.
Hugs and other affectionate forms of physical contact are also almost instant de-stressors. When you're hugged, kissed, held... the dumping of "happy hormones" actually counters stress, anxiety and depression faster than medication, time alone, binging or even crying it out. We were meant to be comforted, to share our woes and put them behind us. This also means that physical contact can take the edge off intense emotions, like rage, passion or panic, not removing them entirely, but calming them enough (into anger, joy or fear) so that you can take a calmer, more rational approach to your situation.
We didn't build all we have by staying one metre away from everyone, refusing hugs from age 12 upwards, jumping when touched and calling a pat on the shoulder "harrassment". I believe that, as humans are social animals, we should act like such. Just as we factor in different aspects of diet, exercise and sleep, in our quest for optimal health we must also factor in human contact. Try and get at least one moment of friendly, non-sexual human contact a day, to start with, and build up from there.
It could be: a hug, letting someone brush your hair, letting them arrange your collar/tie, a kiss, a hand on your arm or back, cuddling up together, massaging or being massaged, rubbing the back, thigh or arm, holding hands...
And (as long as appropriate) it doesn't matter who you do it with. It may be a partner, parent, close friend, sibling, child... Doesn't matter. Find someone to give you a hug and enjoy it.