The Importance of Human Touch
Physical touch is a big part of how we build relationships with other people, and form deep connections. Due to the ongoing risk of COVID-19 spread, many people continue to practice physical distancing and go weeks without physical touch. This especially impacts those who live alone. A lack of physical touch can have a significant negative impact on our mental health, and touch has been shown to reduce stress. Now that we’ve been cut off from most, or in some cases all of our sources of physical touch, how can we cope?
Focusing on your skin:
Anything that stimulates the skin and focuses on your sense of touch, even if you can’t get touch from your loved ones, can be helpful. It could be a hot shower, running your hands over a soft texture or even giving yourself a hug. Although it won’t have the same effect as physical touch from your loved ones, it can help you to reduce your stress and activate some of the same positive feelings.
This can also include self-massage, especially in any area that feels particularly tense. In general, for basic self-massage, use broad strokes to “warm up” the area. Then, use smaller, slower and more concentrated strokes and deeper pushes to relax it. Finish with a few more broad strokes, then move on to the next area you’d like to focus on. Don’t do anything that you’re uncomfortable with, and if you’re unsure reach out to your RMT for advice.
Our nervous system processes self-touch differently than the way it processes touch by others and it doesn’t have quite as strong of a positive impact, but it can still have some of the same positive mental effects.
Hold on to positive memories:
Nothing can replace human touch, but there are some things we can do that might help people replicate some of the feelings that human touch brings. Keepsakes or gifts from friends or family kept somewhere we can see them can soothe negative feelings and give us some of the comfort we would get from seeing our loved ones in person. We often find that touch from someone we know and love feels best in part because of our relationships with them and feelings towards them. Keeping those feelings in mind can help you feel calm and centred.
To tap into those feelings of connection with your loved ones, you can also think about positive memories with them. Try to engage all of your senses to replicate the positive feelings you’ve associated with the friends and family members you’re missing. What was the scene in the memory like — the colours, scents and textures? How were you feeling? This technique can help you feel calm and more connected to your loved ones.
There are some objects that can also help you get through the stress that’s brought on by a lack of touch. Things like a weighted blanket or a bath bomb in a warm bath can activate the senses on a tactile level. They also can feel both luxurious and comforting in times of stress.
Using all of your senses to appreciate things you may have overlooked before can also help you to have a positive emotional experience. Whether this is petting your dog or cat more frequently while being grateful for their companionship, or enjoying the pleasant smells coming in through the window while feeling appreciative of nature, it’s something tactile and emotional that you can use to approximate the feeling you get from human touch.
Physical touch from a trusted person triggers endorphins and makes you feel connected, but that’s not the only way to get those feelings. Things like laughter, singing, dancing, telling stories or connecting with a loved one virtually can also release endorphins and bring about at least some feeling of connection.
Video chats aren’t quite the same as being able to see your loved ones in person or touch them, but when you’re making an effort to connect with the person you’re talking to, you can reduce your anxiety and form a similar emotional bond as the one you would form when seeing loved ones in person.
This is a way to figuratively embrace the people around you. Don’t just limit this to the people in your immediate circle. Find a way to connect with older neighbours, extended family or local charity, and try to figure out what you can do to help. Although you must keep your distance, doing what you can to help can help you feel connected to your wider community.
Helping others can help you feel a greater level of life satisfaction and can lead to lower levels of anxiety. It can direct your focus away from the stressful situation of being separated from your loved ones and onto what you can do. Although it’s not a replacement for what you are missing, it can take your mind off of it and help you focus on something positive.
It’s important to acknowledge your feelings about this situation. It is difficult to go without human touch for weeks or even months, and it’s okay to struggle with it. Only by acknowledging your feelings can you seek out other forms of connection and support from your loved ones. You should also acknowledge that this is impacting many people at the same time. Things like smiling and making eye contact with people you see 2 meters away from you when you go for a walk, or waving at your mailman can make you feel like you’re more connected with your wider community.
It’s also important to acknowledge that eventually, this will be over. Although it will take time, and there will be some initial fears, eventually you will be able to see your loved ones again in person and give them a big hug.
Resource: Registered Massage Therapist of Ontario (RMTO) blog