1. Touch stimulates Oxytocin, which makes you feel safe
Oxytocin is often called “the cuddle chemical” or “the love hormone,” but it’s useful to know how it works in animals. Oxytocin rewards a gazelle when it has the safety of a herd, and a baboon when it grooms the fur of a troop mate. Natural selection built a brain that rewards you with the good feeling of oxytocin when you create social trust.
2. Cuddling helps you sleep like a baby
Oxytocin is your brain’s signal that it’s safe to let down your guard. The mammal brain lowers its guard in the safety of a herd or pack or troop because the burden of vigilance is distributed over many eyes and ears. Mammals surge with oxytocin during childbirth, which causes attachment between mother and young. More oxytocin is stimulated by licking or cuddling. Your mammal brain is designed to lower your guard when you enjoy the safety of social bonds.
3. Cuddling expands your ability to trust
In the state of nature, touch and trust go together because a critter close enough to touch you is close enough to hurt you. Your brain remembers everything that ever hurt you because it evolved to promote survival. Trusting everyone would not be good for survival. Instead, experience wires your brain to turn the good feeling on and off. Neurons connect when oxytocin flows, which wires you to turn on the trust in similar circumstances. When your trust is betrayed, cortisol surges, which wires you to feel threatened in similar circumstances. You can end up feeling threatened a lot.
You can’t erase old pathways, but you can build new ones. New oxytocin experiences wire your brain to turn on the good feeling in new circumstances. Cuddling can help you rewrite your history of trust, and enjoy that nice sense of safety more often.