Updated: Jul 29
In our fast-paced digital age, it's easy to overlook the importance of touch in our lives. From a warm hug to a friendly pat on the back, touch is vital to our overall well-being. Yet, with the rise of touch starvation and the increasing isolation brought about by modern lifestyles, we need to rekindle this fundamental human connection. In this blog post, we'll explore touch's profound impact on our mental health and discuss various strategies to combat touch starvation.
The Significance of Touch for Mental and Physical Health:
From the moment we are born, touch becomes a vital aspect of our lives. It is fundamental to our survival and development, extending beyond physical sensations. In fact, touch can co-regulate our nervous systems, helping us navigate the world and fostering a sense of safety and connection.
Emotional Well-being: Touch releases oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone," which fosters feelings of trust, comfort, and happiness. Regular touch can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by promoting relaxation and soothing our nervous system.
Connection and Belonging: Touch is a fundamental way of establishing and maintaining social connections. It creates a sense of belonging, promotes empathy, and strengthens relationships vital for our overall well-being.
Physical Health: Touch has been linked to numerous physical health benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved immune system function, and enhanced pain tolerance. It can also reduce the production of stress hormones, leading to a stronger immune system.
As adults, we may not comprehend the importance of touch even when it disappears. “We might begin to realize that something is missing, but we won’t always know that it’s touch,” says Prof Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist based at Liverpool John Moores University and a leader in the field of affective touch. “But when we talk about the problem of loneliness, we often ignore the obvious: what lonely people aren’t getting is touch” (Morgan, 2021).
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a unique set of challenges, including widespread physical distancing and isolation. While these measures were necessary for public health, they unintentionally resulted in a profound lack of touch in our lives. Human touch, once taken for granted, suddenly became a luxury many of us yearned for. As the pandemic forced us to maintain physical distance from one another, we experienced touch deprivation on an unprecedented scale. According to research, “when touch is limited or eliminated, people can develop what is called touch starvation (Pierce, 2020) or touch hunger (Mortenson Burnside, 1973). Touch hunger impacts all facets of our health and has been associated with increased stress, anxiety, and depression” (Durkin et al.,2020).
Fighting Touch Starvation: Recognizing the detrimental effects of touch deprivation, finding ways to incorporate healthy touch into our lives is crucial. Here are a few strategies that can help combat touch starvation:
Platonic Cuddling: Platonic cuddling offers a unique and fulfilling way to experience the benefits of touch, intimacy, and human connection without the romantic or sexual context. There are many different ways to bring more platonic touch into your life, such as looking for local cuddle groups or events in your community. These gatherings provide a safe and consensual space for individuals to connect through platonic touch. You can also explore cuddle workshops or retreats, engage in exchanges with trusted friends, or seek professional cuddling services.
Touch with Pets: Animals offer a wonderful source of touch and connection. Petting or cuddling with a furry friend can release oxytocin and provide comfort and companionship, offering many benefits of the human touch. There are many ways to bring more time with pets into your lives, such as volunteering at a pet shelter, offering pet sit for friends and family, fostering animals, or volunteering at Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs.
Dancing and Movement: Engaging in activities like dancing, especially partner dances or group movements, allows for physical touch in a joyful and expressive manner. This can create a sense of connection, boost mood, and improve overall well-being.
Yoga and Mindful Touch: Practicing yoga can help reconnect the mind and body, and certain yoga styles incorporate mindful touch, such as partner yoga or Thai yoga massage. These practices promote physical awareness, relaxation, and a deeper connection with others.
Massage and Bodywork: Professional massage therapy, reflexology, or other forms of bodywork can offer both physical and mental rejuvenation. These practices can reduce muscle tension, alleviate stress, and foster a sense of well-being through nurturing touch.
Safe touch: A touch is a powerful form of communication and connection, capable of conveying emotions, support, and comfort. However, it is crucial to understand the concept of safe touch to ensure that interactions are respectful, consensual, and appropriate for everyone involved. Safe touch refers to physical contact that is consensual, respectful, and appropriate for the individuals involved. It encompasses both the intention behind the touch and the boundaries set by each person.
Safe touch begins with obtaining consent from all parties involved. Respecting personal boundaries and obtaining explicit permission before initiating any physical contact is important. Consent should be freely given, enthusiastic, and can be withdrawn at any time without judgment or pressure. Safe touch is mindful of the context and appropriateness of the situation. It considers cultural norms, social settings, and individual relationships. Recognizing and respecting personal and cultural boundaries is essential to ensuring that touch is received positively. Effective communication is key to safe touch. Openly discuss boundaries, preferences, and comfort levels with others to ensure mutual understanding.
1. Morgan, E. (2021, January 24). Lost touch: How a year without hugs affects our mental health. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/jan/24/lost-touch-how-a-year-without-hugs-affects-our-mental-health
2. Durkin, J., Jackson, D., & Usher, K. (2020). Touch in times of Covid‐19: Touch hunger hurts. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 30(1–2). https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.15488
By: Elena Lewis, MSW Intern