Are you a hugger—a person that feels good when you wrap your arms around a loved one, or even when comforting a stranger?
When was the last time you felt that familiar rush of joy and warmth that comes with a hug?
COVID has made spontaneous, friendly, caring, and platonic touching a ‘no-no.’
Gone is our ability to humanely connect and show respect or approval with a handshake, a high-five, a pat on the back, or an encouraging touch to someone’s hands.
COVID has changed our world considerably, but it has one effect on the well-being of our lives that is not as transparent as others.
We have been forced to bury our innate human need to reach out and touch someone, or to be touched, and it has resulted in an uptick in a mental health condition called touch starvation.
How Touch Matters
Does touch really matter? Yes, it does.
Michelangelo wisely said, “To touch can be to give life.”
Touch starvation is a real condition backed by research. Evidence shows that human touch is interconnected with the depth of our emotions, quality of relationships, social bonding, loneliness, feelings of neglect, as well as our physical well-being.
Asim A Shah, M.D. professor, and executive vice chair, Menninger Dept. of Psychiatry and Baylor College of Medicine, explains how COVID has affected our lives in practical terms, “When someone is touch starved, it is like someone who is starved for food. They want to eat, but they cannot. Their psyche and their body want to touch someone, but they cannot do it because of the fear associated with, in this case, the pandemic.”
Dr. Shah also denoted, “Human beings are wired to touch and to be touched. When a child is born, that is how they bond with their mother—through touch. Our wiring system has touch everywhere, so it is difficult for us not to think about physical contact.”
We cognitively process our current situation (COVID) as a lack of touch (amongst other challenges, of course). But, even when we are not aware of how the absence of touch affects us, we still experience stress as a result of our constant and unmet need.
The science behind the power of touch, and this is why massage (see The Healing Power of Touch) is incredibly beneficial for our mental and physical well-being, is that it promotes the release of ‘feel good’ hormones, such as oxytocin.
As oxytocin is released into our bodies, stress hormones, such as cortisol, are reduced, all of which present beneficial physical changes in our bodies and subsequent physical and mental changes in our brains.
Many studies show that our heart rate lowers after even a small amount of physical contact. This physical improvement is a direct result of a reduction in stress hormones, which also benefits our bodies through lowered blood pressure, reduced respiration and muscle tension, improved digestion, and a boost to our immune system.
Awareness and Self-Care Can Help
‘We don’t know what we don’t know,’ are wise words that describe how we started this journey with the pandemic. We have learned quite a bit, right?
Now that we know there is a name for what we are feeling as we navigate social distancing, we can take measures to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy. Self-care, taking action for ourselves so we can stay well, is the key to regulating our need for touch.
There are things you can do today to create coping mechanisms that may help you fight off or reduce touch starvation and support a sense of peace and calm, such as, adding comforting additions to your bed (i.e., body pillows, and weighted blankets), starting a regimen of physical exercise (Imagine participating in a fun virtual yoga class!), or partaking in self-massage.
- Try massaging your neck or temples to reduce tension. Consider diluting calming essential oils into your massage or carrier oil, such as lavender, chamomile, frankincense, or geranium.
- Increase your level and quality of communication with your loved ones to deter stress and improve your mental wellness. If possible, avoid social isolation. Try to stay in contact with friends, family, and other loved ones.
We do not know how long the pandemic is going to stick around, but we do know the power of human touch.
Human touch is healing.
Do you reside in the Austin, Texas area? Our monthly membership package will help you experience the mental health-boosting benefits of massage!
We want you to feel good!
We want to be a part of your holistic self-care journey. We want to help you take care of you!