Starved for Touch? The Overlooked Side Effect of a Pandemic

For me hugs are a close second on the importance scale to things like food and sleep. They sustain me in a way that I cannot truly put into words. I think I remember every hug I have every received.  I believe a person’s embrace is like a fingerprint, no two are exactly alike, but are wonderful in equal measure. Oddly, growing up I was rather put off by touch and I found it overwhelming. As I have gotten older, I relish each loving touch as a blessing and a gift. The unfortunate reality in our world is that physical contact can potentially be risky to your health and I don’t just mean COVID19. Touch deprivation or skin hunger can affect your sleep, increase anxiety, lower your immunity, increase your blood pressure, and increase depression. This is potentially devastating to many individuals that are already living with these conditions. White House Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended that we never shake hands again. Horrors! It appears that shaking hands and hugging are at risk of going extinct. What does that mean to our body? Our skin is the largest organ in the human body and when we are touched, pet our dog, or hugged, oxytocin, the feel good or cuddle hormone is released, and our autonomic nervous system begins to regulate. In a nutshell, that means are body begins running smoothly and everything is status quo. There have been many research studies that have been conducted that prove that we are born to be in contact with others and to thrive we need that contact that we crave.  The question is what do we do now in our current culture? Well, there was a study done by Dr. Asim Shah from Baylor College of Medicine that showed that video chats such as Zoom are about 80% effective in keeping us connected to others. I wonder how many people are left behind with this reliance on technology. I know many people that are not comfortable with these platforms and many of them are the most vulnerable to illness and loneliness in our community. I believe that if we keep safety our number one priority, I think that people could really benefit from services such as acupuncture, Reiki, Healing Touch, massage, and reflexology. All these modalities require a certain amount of touch and have the potential to greatly reduce anxiety and help the body regulate itself.  You could also take matters into your own hands, pun intended. There is the practice of Abhyanga or oil massage, which comes from Ayurveda. Ayurveda, the science of life, is one of the oldest healing systems that has its roots in India. Abhyanga is considered a vital daily ritual that a person can perform on themselves. I have found this practice helps to create a loving relationship with myself. Here is an outline of my personal Abhyanga ritual: What I like to do is warm up about a cup of my favorite oil (refined sesame, olive, coconut, sunflower, etc.) in a glass bottle, light a candle, put on some nice music, lay out towels that I don’t mind getting oily, step out of my bathrobe and then begin my self-massage. I begin with my feet and ankles and move through each part of my body all the way up to the top of my head. I use copious amounts of oil at each point along my journey taking my time. It really feels amazing and I know how my body loves me for taking the time to nourish it. Then I sit and meditate or read for 20 minutes to allow the oil to soak in. Next, I will get in the shower and rinse of any residual oil without using any soap. If I oiled my hair that day, I would shampoo my hair. Finally, I will get out of the shower and pat myself dry. Skin hunger no more! I do admit it took me a long time to get to the point where I felt ok touching myself. I think some of that hesitation comes from the generation I was brought up in and part of is the chronic self-loathing I had for way too many years. Through Abhyanga I can honestly say that I have developed a loving relationship with myself and even though I haven’t had many hugs over the last few months I feel well fed and complete. Now, I know there are many non-huggers out there, so you are probably not as upset as I am. The point is that even non-huggers need love too. The bottom line is that I recommend that everyone assess how much physical touch they are receiving and see if this is affecting them in any way.  This is a great time to take a deeper look into what is going on with yourself and what you really need in order to be happy and healthy.

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