Humans are wired to need touch, and our skin is loaded with receptors which trigger the release of feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine. From the moment we are born, this physical connection with those who care for us is an important part of what keeps us alive and healthy. (Check out what happens to baby monkeys when they miss out on it). Touch affects our digestion, sleep and even our immunity. Touch deprivation causes stress, and when this occurs, our bodies respond by releasing cortisol, which starts the cascade of negative symptoms associated with the fight or flight response, and if prolonged, results in illness.
However, many of us are now stuck in situations where touch is no longer possible or even available, and the options which we might have made use of before, such as professional massage, carry risks which we may feel unable to accept. This situation disproportionately affects single-person households, people with compromised immunity, and those suffering from mental health issues like OCD or health anxiety. Hugs and hand-holding beyond our bubbles are no longer risk-free, and Dr Anthony Fauci (from the White House Coronavirus Task Force) has even said that handshakes should be banished forever.
So how do we get our need for touch met under these weird circumstances? I’ve put together a “touch menu” of self-care cards for you to choose from – and surprisingly, quite a few of the options don’t actually require skin contact to activate the same self-soothing response. The trick is in finding alternative ways to release the same hormones that humans get from skin-to-skin contact. We can also harness some of the advantages which technology makes available (definitely not around during the loneliness of the Spanish flu early last century!)
Print and cut out out these menu cards, and be sure to treat yourself with some touch alternatives each day.