It’s Tuesday night, and I’m here to debunk the stigma. It is not only OK to practice and value touch… it is vital to our emotional well being. What you may not know about touch, is that it is profoundly soothing and settling, and promotes your physiologically, emotional and psychologically health. Touch is vitally important to our healthy existence.
I admit, I love touch. I traveled for many years as a mountaineer and rock-climbing guide, living much of my time covered head to toe in extreme cold weather gear. Parkas don’t leave much skin exposed for any sort of touch. After a long expedition, I LONGED for touch. Living on the continent of Antarctica for a year, experiencing the coldest weather on earth, I wore my long-johns and parka 24/7 to protect my skin from the elements. As my year contract ended, I boarded a C-130 military airplane, flying over the coldest oceans in the world, wearing every piece of extreme weather clothing I owned. I distinctly remember the moment I got off the plane in New Zealand, to a balmy 70 degree weather. The moment we landed, I peeled off my clothing down to the skin (keeping only the bare minimum), soaking in the feeling of the wind over my skin. It was pure satiating joy and something I hadn’t felt in more than a year. Even the wind can touch us.
Through my life I have had many opportunities to live in isolated circumstances, living in Antarctica, or through long winters of being snowed-in, or even now with a pandemic with government regulated “stay at home” orders…. I found self-touch to be one of my best strategies in maintaining my optimal health.
First of all,it is important to make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching any part of your (or another’s) body. Spreading germs is not conducive to good health. Always start with clean germ-virus-bacteria-free hands.
Types of Touch
Whether it is personal self-touch, touch from another human being, or even touch from your pets, all can serve a vital emotional and physical functions. Tickles, light strokes, deep tissue massage, gentle pressure, pat on the back, social polite touch, loving touch of intimacy or even fully embracing hugs, are all effective types of touch.
Why is Touch Important?
One of the most important parts of human nature is the need for physical contact (Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs). It is a basic essential need to have the feelings of belonging and acceptance among social groups. As children, belonging to a family, often times ensured your physical safety. Back in caveman days, the single person relied on the success of the tribe for their safety. These same needs are seen today. When we connect to our own bodies, we can truly know and support ourselves.
Positive Health Manifestations from Touch
In several studies of touch therapy, it was found that receiving touch reduced pain, diminished depression and enhanced the immune function. It dramatically decreased the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increased the immune function’s. It helps us align with and feel connected socially with others, a vital essential human need, and leads to a calming state.
Endorphins, cortisol, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are all physical responses to touch. Here are some major ways being open to more touch can increase your happiness and longevity.
- Touch reduces stress hormones, specifically cortisol.
- Light touch relieves a sluggish lymphatic system, by physically moving lymph fluid through the vessels. Increased lymphatic system directly relates to an increased immune system.
- Touch has a profound effect on our psychological well being, by providing the show of love and sympathy. Feeling loved and connected is a fundamental psychological need (Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs).
- Touch helps us feel secure. Humans are hardwired for connection – it’s in our DNA.
- Touch increases a release of endorphins, which cause pleasure and relaxation, and can act as a pain-reliever.
- Touch reduces anxiety. Physical touch increases level of dopamine and serotonin, which help regulate your mood.
- Touch increases oxytocin, which helps inspire positive thinking and maintaining and optimistic outlook on the world. The role of oxytocin is to aid in the emotional bonding and generates feelings of compassion.
If you find yourself alone…. self-touch is key
In our time of this global pandemic, we have been faced with self-isolation, as well as much uncertainty in the world. Although we can connect virtually with people, we as humans still need touch. If you are feeling anxious, depressed, uncertain or fearful, give yourself a hug! It works to lift your mood immediately.
- Wrap your arms around your body in a big bear hug.
- Literally pat yourself on the back.
- Give yourself a light lymphatic massage.
- Apply body lotion to your arms, body, legs.
- Stroke your arm, from fingertips to armpit.
- Give yourself a mini-massage: face massage, hand massage, foot massage. (note: wash hands before touching your face)
- Before you go to bed, apply lotion to your feet. There are a ton of reflexology points that help release tension in your toes.
- Cuddle with your pets, if you have animals in the house – they need touch too.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Massage your scalp when washing your hair.
- Cuddle with soft throw blankets or pillows when watching TV.
Read more on my blog: Keeping Healthy During Times of Fear, Uncertainty & Isolation (written specifically during the coronavirus pandemic)