There are 5 basic human senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Touch is the first sense we develop. It is also the most vital to our well-being. There are several sensations of touch we experience such as pressure, temperature, light touch, vibration, and pain. Just take a second to think. How often do you reach out to touch someone? How often does someone reach out to touch you? Did you know that you may be touch-deprived? Touch deprivation is a real issue, with real symptoms, as well as real solutions.
We live in a time where our lives are incredibly busy and mostly dominated by electronics. While social media has reconnected family and friends who are far apart, it has also distanced us somewhat from those around us. Everything is at our fingertips. You can now have groceries or a full meal delivered to your door. If you do go out to a restaurant and look around you will more than likely see most people at the table on their phone. We rarely truly connect with those right before our eyes, and as a result, we lack the social and physical aspect of touching the ones we love. We also live in a time where we have never been more aware or protective of our bodies and physical space. While it’s important to protect our physical boundaries and keep ourselves safe, we cannot go to the opposite extreme and deprive ourselves of experiencing the vital sense of touch.
The amount of physical contact we have on a daily basis, believe it or not, depends on the area in which we live. For example, in a study conducted by psychologist Sidney Jourard, he observed conversations of friends all over the world. In England, the friends didn’t touch them at all. In the US, the friends touched two times when excited. In France, the friends touched 110 times per hour. In Puerto Rico, they touched 180 times. While it is important to respect another’s personal space and the choice whether they prefer touch or not, not receiving the right amount of touch may be affecting us more than we think.
One of the more surprising effects of touch deprivation includes aggression. In a study conducted by Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute, they compared French and American adolescents. The American adolescents who spent less time touching displayed more aggressive verbal and physical behavior than the French adolescents. After introducing massage therapy to the American adolescents, their empathy increased and the level of their violent behavior decreased. Body image issues may also be a result of touch deprivation. A study conducted on women who suffered from bulimia and anorexia found that those with greater touch deprivation in their childhood and current life had more body image issues potentially leading to their eating disorders.
There are receptors underneath our skin that, when stimulated by touch, can help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels and blood pressure. When those receptors aren’t being stimulated regularly, it can result in higher stress levels, causing us to struggle to unwind when we’re overwhelmed. Loneliness is one of the more obvious signs of touch deprivation, and for good reason. If you aren’t touched regularly enough throughout the day, you may feel alone, even if you are surrounded by loved ones. Do you take long hot showers or multiple hot showers in a day? Do you cling to a pillow in your sleep? These can be signs of loneliness. It is also important to note that when someone feels lonely due to touch deprivation, it isn’t uncommon for them to withdraw from others socially. Depression is closely connected to the loneliness aspect of touch deprivation. Those who suffer from this “skin hunger” are more likely to suffer from alexithymia, a condition that prevents people from being able to interpret their emotions. While these are important signs of touch deprivation, they are just a few of the many.
There are ways you can incorporate more touch into your everyday life. Of course, it’s always important to remember to respect others’ boundaries if you know that they prefer not to be touched.
- Greet your coworkers daily with a handshake. While it’s often a habit to say hello to those we cross paths with daily, we rarely ever have physical contact with them. Something as simple as a handshake can provide you both with a small, but much-needed form of physical contact as well as strengthen bonds and build trust.
- Give some sort of physical touch to your significant other each time you leave or arrive home. Whether it be a sweet kiss, a warm hug, or even a firm squeeze of the hand, this strengthens your connection and makes you happier.
- Find 15 minutes in your day to snuggle your kids. Keep in mind that touching is vital to the physical, mental, and emotional development of children. Some days you may be able to get that 15 solid minutes in, no problem. On those other days when your schedule is crazy, break it up to get 5 minutes in the morning, 5 in the afternoon, and 5 before bed. Find time to have them hop in your lap when they need your help with something, give them a comforting hug that lasts a little longer than usual, hold their hand, or massage their back as they drift off to sleep. This will strengthen your bond, deepen their sense of security, and reaffirm your love for them, giving you both a great dose of physical touch for the day.
- Get a pet. Studies have shown those with pets tend to be happier and have fewer feelings of loneliness. While there are many reasons behind that, part of it is the physical touch of another being. If you’re unable to have a pet for any reason, try volunteering at your local animal shelter to get that touch as well as help out some animals in need.
You may have a small social circle, aren’t close to your loved ones, feel uncomfortable touching those who are in your life, or you’ve had a bad experience with touch and avoid it; so if those tips aren’t really applicable in your life, or you know you need a bit more touch than that, there are other ways to get that safe, physical touch you need; massage therapy and other forms of professional bodywork. Not only does massage therapy have a slew of benefits, but it also involves a very safe, professional touch that can provide that much-needed form of physical contact. Whether you choose Swedish, Deep Tissue, Thai massage, Ashiatsu, cupping, hot stone, or any of the many other forms of massage and bodywork, you get to choose how you incorporate touch into your life to get the most benefit.
We all come from different walks of life, but one thing we all have in common is our undeniable need for touch, for our mental and physical health. How will you incorporate touch into your life today?