How Showing Affection — Not Just Romance — Improves Your Health


February 21, 2023

People are inherently social creatures, and showing affection is a surefire way to build relationships with those around us. It doesn’t have to be romantic, either. There are many ways of expressing your fondness for someone, platonic or otherwise. 

Showing love towards your loved ones offers countless benefits. And even when we aren’t actively participating in a romance, receiving or showing affection is essential for humans!

By expressing affection, you can experience a plethora of physical, mental and emotional rewards. It is an essential part of life to let people know that we care about them since there are multiple ways to show love. 

Not only will it positively impact your wellbeing but the people around you, too. Showing love through simple gestures, like offering a hug or simply listening attentively, makes all the difference in relationships.

Physical Benefits

Studies show over and over the physical benefits of affection. One study showed that when a couple had higher levels of physical touch in a day, such as hugging and hand holding, they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol tend to increase your blood pressure and heart rate. 

It’s unsure exactly why touch lowers cortisol, but it may be because of the emotional benefits of it, including feeling safe and relaxed. These emotional and mental benefits can lead directly to improved health.

A different study showed that when people had increases in affectionate physical behaviors over a period of time, they had fewer negative physical symptoms. They had fewer headaches, stomach pains, muscle aches, sleep issues and general illnesses and injuries. 

Clearly, a physically affectionate lifestyle can lead to a better physical condition.

Cortisol is a serious issue if it’s too high in the body. High levels lead to higher blood sugar levels and a host of other problems. That includes serious conditions like anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, sleep issues and memory problems, among other things. 

If affection directly lowers cortisol, it can help improve these issues.

Mental Benefits

There are many mental benefits of showing affection. For one, we all know that when you’re stressed, it can be hard to make smart, healthy decisions. This can lead to more stress.

Have you ever gotten home after a stressful day of work just to find that the chicken you meant to cook for dinner was bad? You probably will make the decision to make that frozen pizza instead or order some nice unhealthy food for delivery. 

If you hadn’t come home stressed, you may have gone to the grocery store instead or used the tofu packet in your fridge you hadn’t yet touched. 

But that sodium-laden food will probably stress you out more in the long term. In this way, stress leads to more stress.

Research shows that showing affection and being social is also linked to lower rates of depression. Unsurprisingly, it can also lead to lower rates of anxiety. 

Emotional Benefits

Showing affection also strengthens your bond, which can substantially affect your emotional health. It also bolsters relationships, making you happier and more secure. Since humans are such social creatures, this bonding experience is a key way to tighten those social bonds. It helps them last longer and be stronger.

Additionally, affection helps your body produce and release oxytocin, a chemical that makes you feel relaxed and happy. It’s often called the love hormone because it’s released when you fall in love. 

It’s part of a complex system of neurohormones, but you don’t have to deeply understand the science to benefit from it. It helps lead to emotional well-being.

Why It’s Healthy to Be Affectionate

A long term study of children and their parents showed that children with affectionate mothers became happier, more resilient and less anxious adults. They studied children at eight months old and then interviewed them again thirty years later.

Those whose mothers gave them “extravagant” or “caressing” affection had much lower rates of stress and anxiety. They also had fewer cases of hostility and distressing social interactions. Researchers believed this was due to oxytocin’s long-lasting effects.

It’s important to actively make regular time for giving and getting affection. In our busy day-to-day lives, this is one thing that can fall to the background, getting pushed aside for other, more pressing attention-snatchers. 

If affection doesn’t come naturally to you or you need some help finding ways to fit it into an already-crammed schedule, here are some tips for what affection can look like (and how to do it).

What Affection Can Look Like

Affection doesn’t have to be physical. You might have heard about the “five love languages,” the idea that people generally prefer one of five different forms of love: physical touch, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and quality time. While this idea isn’t necessarily scientific, the concept is useful in thinking about how you and the people around you like showing and receiving love (and affection). 

Non-physical affection

Give a loved one a nickname and use it between the two of you.

Surprise someone with flowers or even a single beautiful flower.

Bring someone a gift. These gifts don’t have to be expensive because a thoughtful gift can be even more valuable than a pricey one. Remember your coworker’s favorite candy and bring it to them. Keep a list of gift ideas. Your mother mentioned a book she wanted in August? Give it to her for Christmas. She’ll be touched that you remembered.

Spend time together. This is a big one for many. You don’t have to go out to dinner or the movies. You can do something as simple as running errands together, grabbing a weekly coffee or sitting at a local park feeding geese.

Give a compliment. An oldie but a goldie. Find something you genuinely like about someone and specifically tell them so. People can remember compliments for years to come, and, more importantly, they’ll remember how you made them feel.

Do a favor. If your spouse usually does the cooking, surprise them with having it already planned when they get home or even made if you have time.

Physical affection

Hand holding. It’s not just for romantic partners. Hold hands with your best friend or your sibling.

Frequent hugs. Hug as often as you can, with anyone who also wants to hug you. You can even hug your pets.

Give your grandparent or friend a platonic kiss on the cheek. Many cultures do this, and while some tend not to, it’s a nice way to express your feelings and feel closer to someone.

Cuddling. You can cuddle with any of your loved ones, including your pets and your young babies. This makes both of you feel happier and safer.

Tickling. Proceed with caution here. This may only work for those who are young enough to be tickled without feeling annoyed, but it’s guaranteed to put a smile on both of your faces.

This is only a small sampling of ideas of how to show affection to your friends and loved ones. The possibilities truly are endless. Pick one and start today to begin receiving the physical, mental and emotional benefits of showing affection.