Recently a friend commented to me that Valentine’s Day was just “for couples.” I beg to differ. Valentine’s Day love can be spread by everyone with positive results.
As a nurse, I have seen love triumph in ER waiting rooms, at patients’ bedsides and within the walls of hallowed hospices — not just between lovers but also amidst the interactions of friends, family and strangers, and in the milieu of therapy dogs and children running joyfully to the delight of those who observe their gaiety in the halls of hospitals and clinics.
While being in a relationship can be ever so wonderful, love finds us in other places too. And we benefit. Our body, mind and spirit are stirred in a positive way by the demonstration of love.
Studies show that a loving relationship spews dopamine, serotonin and endorphins into our system. These chemicals are homemade prescriptions that counter depression. In addition, love reduces cortisol, a chemical made by our bodies in response to stress. Cortisol can have a deleterious effect on our heart, blood sugar and cholesterol.
More love contributes to leveling out cholesterol and blood sugar and preventing cardiac events. Love also improves the quality of our sleep. Who does not feel better after a restful night’s sleep?
When a person feels love — and this can be through a friendly hug — their body produces more oxytocin. It is often called the "love hormone.” In a National Institute of Health article, oxytocin is referred to as the “Great Facilitator of Life” and was associated with a positive mood and decreased anxiety.
Research studies revealed that increasing the amount of oxytocin in a person’s system increases the likelihood of eye-to-eye contact and the ability to receive social cues, thus perhaps increasing trust and empathy. Its presence in the brain battles anxiety and depression and improves social bonding. Oxytocin is associated with fewer gastrointestinal maladies also. It reduces the body’s stress response.
We do not need to have a partner to give a hug. We find hugs within the social norms of our giving hello greetings and saying good-byes. We embrace people to comfort them. And when we do so, we reap the benefits as well as the person or pet on the receiving end. We hug and snuggle kitties. We put our arms around beloved horses. We bend down and interlace our hands in the soft fur of a neighbor’s dog passing by on a walk with its owner.
Researchers tell us that a hug goes deeper than the feeling of connection you get when you embrace someone. In a study of more than 400 adults, researchers found that hugging may reduce the chance a person will get sick. In a paper titled “Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness” published in 2014 (https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0956797614559284), the participants with a greater support system were less likely to get sick. And those with the greater support system who did get sick had less severe symptoms than those with little or no support system.
What have we to gain on Valentine’s Day does not depend on being a couple. It is more related to how we choose to embrace our everyday interactions. Give a hug. Accept a hug. Touch animals and plants.
Demonstrating love is not singularly owned by those people who are married or with children. Love is a gift we can give to a friend, neighbor, and stranger in need. On Valentine’s Day — as in every day — everyone can spread the positive effects of love.
Susan L. Schoenbeck lives in Green Valley. “Our Stories” is an occasional feature about the adventures of Green Valley residents. Email your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org