Do you find yourself feeling closer, content, calm, or secure after an intimate skin-to-skin contact, say for example during sex? Science has proven that in such situations, your body releases oxytocin, the love hormone. And you only need a single touch to induce all these feelings of attachment.
So, the next time you have anxiety that makes your heart pound too fast, reach out to the person next to you for a warm touch. You will feel a sense of compassion that will calm you down right away. These two instances demonstrate how human touch is powerful.
Now, let’s flip the scenario a little bit. What would happen if you live without touching someone else? Does such a thing as touch starvation even exist? If so, what are its telltale signs? Let’s discuss more below: –
Understanding Touch Starvation
Ever wondered why you get energized after a handshake, hug, or a quick high five in the morning? It is because these simple, yet necessary gestures may be all that you need to stimulate your body for the day. But what if you have to seclude yourself for weeks or months? Unless you are physically intimate with your partner, or you have physical interactions with a family member or pet, your body will crave physical contact. Yes, touch starvation is real. Simple as it seems, it can have a drastic effect on your mental health.
Why is Touch Starvation Dangerous for Mental Health?
The world is going through a Coronavirus pandemic. Doctors want us to social distance by self-isolating ourselves. They want to flatten the curve of the airborne virus. And, if you have an underlying medical condition that makes you more vulnerable to Covid-19 related complications, self-isolation is the best protection you have.
But, who thought we could be self-isolating for months? Sick or pre-disposed parents can’t hug their children or siblings. Families can’t hold hands, let alone hug when mourning the loss of a loved one. Birthday parties now feature friends and family lining up in their cars to honk and pass by the house. It is a new normal that has resulted to a mass touch starvation.
If you stay for days, weeks, or even months without touching another individual, here are several things that can happen to you: –
#1: Heightened Stress Levels
Picture this: Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, everyone is encouraged to wear a mask, avoid handshakes, wash hands and sanitize, keep a safe distance when in public places, and stay at home as much as possible. Incidentally, there is a boyfriend who has not seen, let alone kissed, his girlfriend for months. Yet, the two live just two hours away from each other. So, when the government eases the lockdown measures, these two love birds decide to convene at the park and catch up. Now, what is more stressful? The couple not seeing each other for months? Or, meeting, and not being able to touch by sitting close to one another and sharing a meal? Such scenarios are recounted over and over again everywhere during this pandemic. And the stress levels continue to rise.
Do you find yourself clinging to pillows, pets, or having prolonged hot showers and baths? You could be trying to overcome the loneliness as a consequence of touch starvation. Most people who experience skin hunger will wrap themselves in blankets, even on a calm day. It is a feeling of alienation from others that is too hard to bear. Besides, extreme loneliness can make you avoid any future social contact altogether. At this point, you are in a self-reinforcing cycle.
#3: Aggressive Behavior
Touch starvation can make kids aggressive later on in life. A study by researcher Tiffany M. Field at the University of Miami School in 2005 looked at how touch-deprived kids behave over time. It saw that such kids become aggressive or had suicidal thoughts in their adolescent life.
Notably, these tendencies reduced for touch-deprived kids who went for massage therapy. These finding hints that a virtual classroom is a temporary fix for kids as they stay at home. With time, these kids need to get out and mingle with other kids.
#4: Sexual Dysfunction Due to Anxiety
Touch creates a sense of trust and safety in a sexual relationship. You know, that gentle hug, holding hands, or a peck reassures a partner of their commitment to the relationship. In contrast, the lack of it creates anxiety that often triggers erectile dysfunction.
#5: Fear of Secure Attachments
When a partner is anxious to the point of developing sexual dysfunction, they will shy away from forming long term relationships in the future. Instead, they keep themselves busy with careers, hobbies, or any other work that will minimize their social interactions with others.
#6: Body Image Issues
Another study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research reveals that kids who undergo touch deprivation are more like to develop bulimia or anorexia. This skin hunger may still be present in a person’s adult life. Likewise, some resort to overeating to compensate for emptiness due to touch deprivation.
#7: Compromised Immune System
Our bodies have neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for our mental wellbeing. Believe it or not, touch makes bonds that trigger these hormones and neurotransmitters to raise a person’s immunity. That’s why doctors urge hugging the sick when you visit them at the hospital. It helps in the healing process.
#8: Poor Sleep
When we crave touch, the increased stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety that comes with it keeps us awake at night. We toss and turn, because of feeling empty. Later on, we may increase the risk of getting hypertension, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, and stroke due to such poor sleep patterns.
How Can you Deal with Touch Starvation amidst a Pandemic?
Here are some coping strategies when you crave for touch: –
- Get a quarantine buddy
- Use visualization meditation to release love hormones
- Throw in a weighted blanket when you go to bed
- Massage therapy
- Invest in a hug pillow or a “huggable teddy”
- Use essential oils and herbs to boost your immunity
- Get a pet
- Exercise regularly
Nothing can replace the primal need of a warm touch. That’s why skin hunger can cause loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Then, we limit our social interactions and increase the risk of grave health conditions. Is physical touch with another human being off-limits to you at the moment? Find ways to safeguard your mental health. A massage therapy, cuddling a pet, or hugging a pillow can help you cope.