Is Your Relationship Good for Your Health?

“You can’t imagine how much it helped me having you there to hold my hand when I was so scared.” Have you ever said this to someone in your life? Or has someone ever said it to you?

Something remarkable happens through physical contact, something as powerful as a drug, something that effectively reduces pain and anxiety. And the stronger the relationship between the people touching, research shows, the more effective the physical contact.

Affection can’t heal injuries, but it can reduce feelings of solitude and fear. It can even help with physical pain. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, studied the levels of fear and pain experienced by women when they were subjected to mild electric shocks. Left alone while receiving the electric shocks, the women felt fear and pain, and the areas of their brains responsible for emotion were particularly active. But if a member of the laboratory team held their hands—someone they had never met before and whose face they could not see—the women felt less fear, even though they were still in physical pain. Their brain activity calmed down markedly at every level if their partners were the ones holding their hands.

Changes were visible in the hypothalamus, the brain area involved most in processing emotions, while the women’s hands were held. The hypothalamus controls secretion of the body’s hormones, in particular stress hormones.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin call emotional relationships “the hidden regulator” because they have a profound effect on brain function and because this effect is imperceptible when all is going fine. It only becomes obvious in situations of stress or threat.

Human contact can help reduce physical pain and emotional anxiety. The entire pharmaceutical industry is trying to achieve the same effect with a pill, without producing any side effects. But a simple touch already does it.

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By the Editors of The Intelligent Optimist


Franck Rio
Past Member 3 years ago

Good Story

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R4 years ago


Loo Samantha
Loo sam4 years ago


Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck4 years ago

Thank you for the article.
From time to time my relationship IS good for my health- But at the moment Im aware of that its NOT good at all :/

Natasha Salgado
natasha s4 years ago


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran4 years ago


heather g.
heather g4 years ago

I'm all for human contact.
The best that another can give you is their presence - even if they are busy with their own project...

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e4 years ago

Some people aren't good listeners.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e4 years ago

Just being there can mean a lot.

Sheila D.
GGmaSAway D4 years ago

I liked this story and agree that it's nice to have just a touch when you are sad, or a hug when there is a great loss. Sometimes it is enough for you to just be there. That doesn't invovle touching, but your presence is a comfort in itself.