Events of the past few days for me have all pointed in one way or the other to today’s topic. First, it was an article I came across that talked about how we humans have become too “online” oriented. We now do almost everything online – read online, chat online, buy online and even bank online. Somehow, it has now become possible to go through life without having to build one of the most important parts of living – relationships.
Secondly, a friend of mine recently lost an aunt she really cherished and in that moment when she broke down after hearing the news, I was a bit confused about how to react. What to say or what to do. Eventually, I went close to her, rubbed her back and then, it became obvious that my presence and that simple gesture was reassuring for her. Thirdly, over the weekend, I had an old friend visit me and just hugging her alone felt like I was reliving all the happy memories from 5 years back.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just the absence of disease. In other words, it is impossible to say you are healthy if your mind (emotions) is sick. I know you might be wondering, what has physical touch got to do with all of this? Well, a lot. But first, it is important to note that the physical touch we are talking about here is not necessarily the romantic kind but the regular form of human-to-human contact that occurs in everyday living. It is physical contact that distinguishes humans from other animals. From a warm hug or sympathetic pat on the back to a congratulatory handshake, we have developed complex languages, cultures, and emotional expressions through physical contact. The effect of a touch depends, of course, on the situation. A touch from someone can be relaxing or reassuring, off-putting or gentle, soothing or stimulating. Touch binds us together in ways that transcend words and are a source of great help especially in situations that defy words.
“The electric touch of romantic love, the unsettling feeling of being watched, the relief of pain from mindful practice or the essential touch that newborns need to thrive. All of these diverse sensations flow from the evolved nature of our skin, nerves and brain”, says David Linden. A true life story about some orphans from Romania during the regime of Ceausescu in 1960 who were deprived of maternal care reveals the devastating effects of touch deprivation. The children grew up with serious difficulties in social interaction and development. Babies are generally the ones who benefit from gentle touch and massage but the need and desire for human contact does not dwindle as we age.
Research has shown that physical affection has some measurable health benefits. “Stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress,” Hertenstein (Director of the touch and emotion laboratory at DePauw University) says. One study from the University of North Carolina found that women who hugged their spouse or partner often (even for just 20 seconds) had lower blood pressure, possibly because a warm embrace increases oxytocin levels in the brain, and over time, these lower blood pressure may decrease a person’s risk for heart disease.
It has also been found out that touch can lead to decreased violence among adolescents, a greater learning environment for students and overall well-being. French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen discovered that when teachers pat students in a friendly way, those students are three times more likely to speak up in class.
Kangaroo mother care, a method used in the care of low birth weight babies, involves a mother carrying her baby on her chest continuously or intermittently to enhance skin to skin which serves as a thermoregulator and aids the growth of the newborn.
HOW CAN YOU UTILIZE THE STRONG POWER OF PHYSICAL TOUCH?
1) Go in for the rub down. Even if you don’t have aches and pains, book a visit to a licensed massage therapist. Hopefully, you’ll leave more relaxed.
2) DIY massage. If you’re shy about stretching out for a massage therapist, try some massage techniques, like rubbing your hands together to warm them and then cupping them over your closed eyes. Feel the calm wash over you as your eyes and facial muscles relax.
3) Conduct some hug research. When you greet a friend or family member, go in for an embrace instead of a handshake or nod. Sample a few different varieties of hugs – arms around the waist, hands on the shoulder blades. Linger in the hug a little and really relish the sensation of closeness.
It is so sad how much human benefits that we have allowed the use of technology to deprive us of. But it is not too late to start. Extend a hand of care to someone today. We really do need each other to survive. Till next week, take care!