Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

When is the last time you had a good hug? If you haven’t had a hug lately, you’re missing out.

Why get a hug? Well, there are a whole lot of reasons. Some of the benefits are physical. Research has shown that getting regular hugs can help you avoid getting colds. Yes, evidence exists that hugging helps your immune system work better. Hugs may also help you to tolerate pain better.

And then there are the emotional benefits. Hugging gets the feel-good hormones working, which can help you to feel more relaxed and reduce stress. And of course, hugs can benefit your relationships. A good hug can bring you closer to other people by making you feel more cared for, which can result in a boost to your self-esteem. A good hug might even help you to stay calm and collected when you are walking into a stressful situation. And hugging lets other people know you care about them, too.

So there you have it. Hugging promotes your physical and emotional wellness. But unfortunately, many of us aren’t getting enough hugs. What gets in the way?

Why hugs don’t happen

If you didn’t come from a family where hugging happened on a daily basis, then receiving—and certainly asking for—a hug may be kind of uncomfortable. If so, being a hugger may be something you have to learn to experience and enjoy. Or you may not exactly be surrounded by eager huggers. In that case, you may need to find a few.

Whatever your personal roster of potential huggers looks like, here are some ideas for bringing more hugs into your life:

If someone makes the move, don’t push them away. As long as you are being offered a hug from someone you are comfortable with and trust, give it a try. Even for a few seconds. If your not comfortable at first, or if you just don’t feel ready to be hugged, it’s okay. Be patient with yourself.

Take a risk: ask for a hug. Here’s what might seem like a radical idea. If there is someone you care about, and feel a connection with, ask if you can give them a hug. Say something like: “I’d like to give you a quick hug.” Sure, it feels risky. But think of the reward in terms of your own wellness as well as deepening your connection. Gently push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Find your reason for giving or receiving a hug. A hug says a lot of things: I care about you. I appreciate you. I want to be a support for you. I understand what you are dealing with. Thank you. All pretty good reasons for a hug. Right? So no excuses!

Open the door to hugs by being a little more touchy. Other people appreciate small gestures of touch, like a pat on the shoulder. This helps the other person to relax in your presence, to feel cared for, and promotes trust and connection between the two of you. Who knows, this might be the bridge toward a good solid hug.

Pets are good huggers, too. Don’t forget your four-legged friends. They are also ready to share a hug with you. Nothing like the unconditional love a pet gives you!

And here’s an idea: give yourself a hug. That’s right. Fold your arms across your chest and grab onto your shoulders. And add some positive self-talk: “Great job!” “I’m doing the best I can in a difficult time.” “I’m ready for anything.” As the saying goes, be your own best friend.

Opportunities to give and receive hugs are all around you. And hugging promotes wellness. So what are you waiting for? Start hugging it out!

Who do you like to hug? How does a hug make you feel? Tell us by commenting below.