The Positive Power of Touch
"Touch deprivation is a reality in American culture as a whole. . . .It's not just babies needing to be touched in caring ways or the sick. It's not just doctors and nurses needing to extend it. It's all of us, needing connection, needing to receive it, needing to give it, with genuine happiness at stake."
—"The Power of Touch" by Nora Brunner
Six Feet Apart and Always Alone
How many times since the pandemic started have you heard someone comment that they miss hugging their friends and family? Many people have not seen their close friends or family even for holidays in nearly two years. Everywhere you turn, you are constantly reminded that you must stay six feet apart. You are reminded not to gather in large crowds, not go out in public unless you have to, and limit your traveling. Limit touching anyone regardless of vaccination status.
As vaccination levels begin to rise, the world is starting to reunite, but you are still reminded daily to social distance. As another wave of the COVID-19 virus rolls through, our society is suffering from touch starvation.
Have you noticed since social distancing was introduced and inforced that you have felt more depressed, your anxieties have been heightened, or your stress levels seem to always be on a high? This might be due in part to being touch starved. Touch starvation is when you long for human touch after being without it for prolonged periods. This phenomenon is so real, and the outcomes so devastating, that touch starvation can be compared to food starvation. You can only go without either for so long—without food and touch your bodies become out of balance.
Physical touch releases oxytocin, a chemical often referred to as "the love hormone." When you get all warm and fuzzy when you get to touch your crush or significant other or feel comforted by a parent's touch, that is oxytocin. Touch can be a signal of safety and can ease cardiovascular stress. An example of this could be a caregiver picking up a fussy child. As they gather the crying child, the child calms down as the caregiver holds them close and speaks softly to them.
For those whose work allows a lot of face-to-face interaction daily, some of the individuals you work with may mention difficult things they are going through. Many times, you cannot help but have the urge to ask to hug them or touch their shoulder, if for nothing else than to signal to them that you are there with them, holding space and listening.
Consensual Touch Can Be a Good Thing
Touch promotes trust and helps people form close bonds. Research has shown that physical contact can increase dopamine and serotonin levels, both chemicals that aid you to feel better in stressful situations. Both dopamine and serotonin help your brain regulate your moods, stress, and anxiety levels. Small touches help promote calmness, lessen anxiety, and send calming signals to your brain. One-touch can relax your entire body.
The use of touch is important. We use touch to communicate emotions and to start and maintain personal relationships. A simple touch on the arm can activate parts of the brain that influence emotional and physical reactions. A slight touch on the shoulder has the potential to smooth an anxious mind and slow a racing heart. Touch can be that powerful.
Always Ask Before Touching
If the urge to hug someone sneaks up on you, always ask them first if it is okay. If the person says no, understand that this response is not meant to hurt your feelings. This individual may not be comfortable with physical contact outside of a small trusted circle, and they are asking you to respect their personal space. If you do not know this person, always be mindful that they may have had negative experiences around touch in the past.
Unfortunately, in some cases, human touch has come to be seen as harmful. Individuals with malicious intent with non-consensual touch have ruined the experience for some. These individuals have villainized something so natural and needed.
For many people, giving or receiving a simple hug would be the highlight of their day. Yet, it is still important to teach children the difference between bad and good touch. Remember that not everyone gets warm fuzzies from physical touch. Some individuals may have deep traumas that prevent them from enjoying being touched, and that is okay.
The pandemic has caused divides deeper than the ocean and wider than the Grand Canyon. Despite vaccinations, booster shots, and mask mandates, social distancing has caused a nation of touch-starved individuals. People who live alone and have felt isolation more acutely may be even worse off than those living with families. As the world begins to recover, many of us can not wait to start hugging our friends and family again. The power of the human touch has been researched and recorded. Even a handshake or pat on the shoulder can be healing. However, not everyone sees the positivity of human contact due to trauma. Whether you're feeling touch starved or the thought of being touched causes you anxiety, there is help available to you. At Achieve Medical Center, we want to help you move past old hurts and traumas so that you can live a life that allows for the healing power of human touch. Call (619) 375-3977.