Feeling stressed?

Try holding hands…. :)

By Belinda Goldsmith

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Women feeling stressed this holiday season could find help is closer than they think – by holding their husband’s hand.

A study by a University of Virginia neuroscientist has found that happily married women under stress show signs of immediate relief when they hold their husband’s hand, with this clearly seen on their brain scans.

Dr. James Coan, who led the limited study involving 16 couples in marriages judged to be strong, said he was surprised by the extent this gesture made on stress levels in women. “We’ve known for decade that being in a good, committed relationship makes wounds heal faster, makes you sick less often and even live longer,” Coan told Reuters.

“But the main point of this study is that no one had been able to quantify the mental benefits of a close relationship in terms of improved health,” he said.

Coan, whose study “Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat” is published in the December 2006 issue of the journal Psychological Science, subjected 16 married women to the threat of electric shock while either holding their husband’s hand, the hand of an anonymous male, or no hand.

Coan and colleagues used a brain scan, known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, that was able to show how these women’s brains responded to this hand-holding while in a threatening situation. The effect on men of hand-holding was not studied but researchers intended to do so in the future.

The study only included happily married couples with the state of their marriage assessed before they could enter the study – and those with the strongest relationships had the greatest benefit.

All couples were recruited from the Madison, Wisconsin area – with some rejected from the one-year study as the overall quality of their relationship was not good enough.

But Coan said he planned to expand on his work next year with a new study including less happy couples, as well as gay and lesbian couples.

“We expect people in relationships that are not as strong will not get the same benefits from hand holding but we do not know to what extent,” said Coan, an assistant professor in the U.Va. Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Department of Psychology.

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