Tension at Work? Maybe You Should Hug It Out

On national hug day – yes, there is such a thing, it seems appropriate to visit the touchy subject of invading a colleague’s personal space.

Conflicts at work not only mess with our heads but also our immune systems —making us easy targets for infections during these stressful times. Researchers have accumulated substantial evidence to back this theory (increased stress= increased risk to your immune system).

At the same time, they have found that people who feel supported during periods of strain are protected from its negative impact on health.

And yet, what behaviors demonstrate care and concern? Dear huggers, you may be onto something.

Hugging may reduce your risk of the common cold

A recent study suggests that hugs buffer us from the unpleasant side effects of stress and tension, like the common cold.

The study, which appeared in an online issue of the Psychological Science, was designed by Sheldon Cohen, a psychology professor at the Carnegie Mellon University.

Cohen et al tailored a study to specifically test if this unspoken gesture could convey empathy, and fend off the sleep snatching and congestion inducing bug that can hurt work life.

404 participants responded to a questionnaire that gauged their perception of social support for two weeks. During this time they were also interviewed over the phone for data on the frequency of conflicts they were involved in and hugs they received.

Subsequently they were exposed to a common cold virus and monitored for illness signs, severity and recovery.

To hug or not to hug

The data indicated that those who received more hugs were associated with a lower risk of catching a cold when exposed to the virus. Even when they got sick, these individuals showed milder signs of the infection and bounced back quicker than those in the sample who were less embraced.

Disagreements on the job are inevitable, even necessary to arrive at extraordinary solutions. But stress primes our bodies to catch a cold. With every bout we lose, on average, a day or two of work as per ACHOO – a survey geared to understand how the common cold impacts productivity and quality of life. We also cough away more than a quarter of our day.

But your friendly arm-wrap may boost a colleague’s psyche and immunity. You even lift their productivity as a consequence. Non-hugger, you may say: to pounce on team members at first sign of distress is not my jam. Maybe you and your colleague just aren’t there yet.

In that case, a friendly pat on the back will do. Or create space on your calendars to make peace after work sessions of friendly sparring.

The important thing is to show empathy, and prove to your colleague that you’re there to support them.

After all— you’re all in this together!

Originally published at blog.generalassemb.ly on January 21, 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s