Holding Hands With A Loved One Is Scientifically Proven To Reduce Stress
De-stressing might just be as easy as holding hands with your significant other, according to a new study.
Researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah, the US, came to this warm and fuzzy conclusion by asking 40 couples to complete a tricky task on a computer.
According to the study published in the journal PLOS One, some of the couples were randomly assigned to work alone while others got to sit near their spouse and hold their hand.
While they tackled the task the researchers used an infrared camera to track their pupil diameter which is a direct reflection of the body's physiological 'flight or fight' stress response.
It's not known exactly why our pupils widen or 'dilate' when we're stressed -- it also happens when we're scared and sexually aroused -- but it's thought that it allows in more light and helps us process important information in front of us.
In contrast, our pupils get smaller when we're relaxed and calm.
It happens rather quickly, too -- pupil size can change within 200 milliseconds. That's faster than the blink of an eye.
Pupil dilation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system which means test subjects didn't have any control over it -- this gave the researchers a highly accurate insight into their stress levels.
At first, they noted that all participants had dilated pupils and were feeling really stressed out. But the ones who had their loved ones on hand calmed down much faster and could continue working on the task.
This finding proved their theory about the calming power of touch, particularly from a significant other.
"When we have a spouse next to us and with us, it really helps us navigate and get through the stress we have to deal with in life," BYU psychology professor Wendy Birmingham said.
The study builds upon landmark research by the university that showed that relationships can improve our odds of survival by 50 percent.
The research from 2010 found that a lack of social connections -- with friends, family, neighbours or colleagues -- can reduce our lifespan as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.
"When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks," co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad said.
The idea that a lack of social relationships is a risk factor for death is still not widely recognised by health organisations and the public but the researchers hope that their findings will help change that.
So go on, give someone you love a hand.
Feature image: Getty.