I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Feeling stressed, anxious, or otherwise out of control in your life? It’s becoming more and more common for women to endure high levels of stress on a daily basis. Whether it’s the economy, higher unemployment, or the demands that come with raising a family while building a career and caring for aging parents, stress is a huge part of most women’s lives. Stress is literally a killer, leading to higher rates of heart disease, obesity, sleeplessness, and other detractors from health. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to counteract the everyday stress of life. In fact, a new study published in Psychological Science that says something as simple as holding hands with your life partner can help reduce your stress.

Hand Holding

The study used MRI brain scans to measure the activity in the hypothalamus – the portion of the brain responsible for the release of stress hormones. During the MRI, each woman was administered an electrical shock. The women were in three groups, with one group holding their spouse’s hand, one group holding a stranger’s hand, and one group holding no one’s hand. The women holding their husband’s hand, and to a lesser degree the women holding the stranger’s hand, not only felt less stress but, according to the MRI, their brains responded less stressfully to the shock.

Most moms have always known that holding hands helps, and they hold their children’s hands whenever their child is facing something scary, from immunization shots to the first day of school. But this study has revealed that mom can benefit from handholding too, and the most effective hand holding is between a couple with a happy marriage. Handholding is simple, inexpensive, and effective and can have a measurable impact on the amount of stress hormones released into the body.

Dr. Elisha Goldstein, in her newly penned book The Now Effect, encourages people to trust their instincts more when it comes to health, and she uses this handholding study as an example. People have known for a long time that holding someone’s hand when things are stressful is helpful; they do it almost automatically. But the idea of it being helpful wasn’t actually recognized until a scientific study offered proof. Goldstein says, “When we’re connected, we simply feel better and happier. We don’t really need neuroscience to tell us that, but it’s just fun that it does.”

Goldstein encourages couples whose own handholdings have gone by the wayside (along with dating and other early romance efforts) to rekindle the experience, not only for the healthy benefit of stress reduction but also because that kind of connection is important for the relationship. She also encourages people to trust their intuition about their health and well-being, believing that we often know without needing to hear the results of a study what will work and what won’t.

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3 thoughts on “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”

  1. Another example of the power of human connection, which seems to be permeating the field of science recently. I wonder if people who held their partner’s hand felt less stress because they felt that their partner could both sympathize and empathize with them? It’s also nice to hear a researcher validate and back the power of intuition; another reason for people to pay attention to gut feelings!

  2. Interesting point, Josephine, about people feeling less stress while holding hands due to sympathy and empathy from their partner. I also think it’s interesting that even holding a stranger’s hand was effective at reducing stress; perhaps because in this study, where people were administered a shock and were experiencing a very mild degree of pain, they also felt sympathy and/or empathy from the stranger because pain is something all people can relate to. It’s a kind of human connection. Also, I think people are more apt to pay attention to studies that advocate adapting a very simple and easy yet effective practice, i.e. holding hands. I’ll be forwarding this on to all of my married friends.

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