Positive Touch & Social Distancing: Their Marriage Matters

An article published on March 13th of 2020 about current Google trends included a heartbreaking sentence: Searches for loneliness have peaked at the highest point in Trends history, since 2004.

Physical Touch: The Ghost of What Used to Be

As fears of the coronavirus and the virus itself engulf the world and social distancing becomes more important than family traditions, human contact, outside of one’s home, disappears from society’s landscape.

Grandmothers no longer kiss their grandchildren’s heads as they bake chocolate chip cookies together, getting more flour on the floor than in the dough. Friends no longer share a high-five or embrace and get together to vent about their day or to offer cheers on their latest accomplishments. There is plexiglass between customers and cashiers, creating a physical barrier that practically screams KEEP IT MOVING! And booths and tables at restaurants, bars, and pubs across the country sit empty, leaving a depressing visual reminder of the financial, mental, and emotional anguish of their owners.

The coronavirus crisis, in just a matter of weeks, transformed the life we once knew into a scene that resembles a movie, not our reality. We look out our windows and drive down the streets, past the empty businesses and down the traffic-free roads, and we see a world we no longer feel allowed to touch and fully experience.

Although evidence supports the theory of social distancing and statistically we see that the sooner a state commits to social distancing the sooner that state decreases the number of people anticipated to contract the virus, we need to think about the importance of physical touch once the coronavirus crisis loses consciousness.

Social Distancing’s Affect on Well-Being

Even before the coronavirus crisis, physical touch for the youngest of our generations was lacking compared to older generations. As Dr. Tiffany Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine points out, social media and the need to always have a phone on you or within arms reach is detrimental to touch. Dr. Fields and other specialists agree that the tremendous decrease in physical touch over the years is a weighty concern because a lack of physical touch is linked to growth deprivation, developmental delays, and an increased display of aggression.

In the article Why Physical Touch Matters for Your Well-Being, it shares the discovery scientists in the mid-1990s made when they traveled to Romania to “examine the sensory deprivation of children in understaffed orphanages…” It didn’t take long for these scientists to realize that “the touch-deprived children had strikingly lower cortisol and growth development levels for their age group.”

Consider how often healthy physical touch shaped you. Do you remember sitting on top of your father’s shoulders during a parade? Do you recall your mother suffocating you in kisses between your nightly bedtime story and lights out? Can you feel your cousins’ hugs when you helped win the big game or when your crush pulverized your heart? Can you still feel the high-five your coach gave you? Do you remember how your best friend hugged you when your grandpa died? Did you ask for kisses on your boo-boos when you were little? Can you recall the first time your crush held your hand?

Advantages of Affective Touch

Healthy human touch cannot be underestimated. In fact, in an article entitled Hugs & kisses: The health impact of affective touch, Medical News Today shares a number of noteworthy discoveries from physical touch-based studies over the years:

  • Children who grow up without affective touch have severe developmental issues and are unable to relate socially.
  • Touch can be reassuring and calming for a person in distress since it can communicate an offer of support and empathy.
  • Offering a reassuring hug to a person who is in pain or feeling down can benefit both the receiver and the giver because both people involved in the interaction experience more positive emotions and feel more strongly connected to each other.
  • Hugging can potentially relieve a person’s feelings of existential fear and remove self-doubt.
  • Among people who become ill, those who received emotional support in the form of affective touches showed less severe symptoms of infection.
  • In romantic couples where the partners share frequent hugs, women tend to have lower blood pressure and heart rates.
  • Romantic kisses help boost the immune system.
  • Touch can relieve physical pain. From massage therapies to simply holding hands with your partner, physical touch has been shown to diminish the sensation of pain.

From the Womb to Those Who Earned Their Laugh Lines

Researchers agree that healthy physical touch is a pivotal component of one’s physical and mental development, their ability to communicate, their personal relationships, and fighting disease. So when the government gives the all-clear and social distancing is a memory not a requirement, remember how important positive physical touch is to both the receivers and givers from a mental, physical, and emotional standpoint. And remember that the benefits of healthy physical touch encompass all ages, from the womb to those who earned their laugh lines.

Stanford Medicine says “skin-to-skin time in the first hour after birth helps regulate the babies’ temperature, heart rate, breathing, and helps them cry less. It also increases mothers’ relaxation hormones.” Denying the connection between positive physical touch and well-being doesn’t make medical sense or common sense. Until that all-clear is given, offer extra hugs to those under your same roof, especially children who are no longer around friends, coaches, and extended family who used to shower them with high-fives and healthy physical touch. And call those who live alone because they are likely feeling the loss of healthy physical touch most.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach

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