Touch Deprivation: How Does Touch Affect Our Physical and Mental State?
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Touch Deprivation: How Does Touch Affect Our Physical and Mental State?

Touch Deprivation: How Does Touch Affect Our Physical and Mental State?

Touch deprivation refers to the desire for physical contact that people may experience after receiving little to no physical interaction with others for some time. After nearly a year of following guidelines set in place due to COVID-19, many individuals have undergone mental and physical duress, including sacrificing even the most basic needs, including human interaction.

More recently, the phrase “touch deprivation” has been circulating to help articulate people's current needs for physical contact or lack thereof. Touch is essential in communicating emotions and maintaining relationships, whether between family, friends, or romantic relationships. Some people even compare lack of touch to being as important as the desire for food when you’re hungry. Looking into how touch affects your mental and physical wellbeing and what you can do to combat the cravings for touch can improve your mental and physical being.

The Connection Between Stress and Loss of Touch

The lack of human touch and physical interaction can increase feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. Over some time, these can trigger a variety of adverse physiological effects. For example, to combat stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and muscle tension which suppress the digestive and the immune system, increasing the risk of infection.

The skin is the largest organ on the body and can positively and negatively affect touch stimuli. Touch stimuli are sensory nerves that convey the sensation of touch to the brain. In response to low-intensity stimulation of the skin, contact, or stroke, the body releases oxytocin, otherwise referred to as the “love hormone.” This hormone provides many different benefits, such as contributing to overall wellbeing and stress reduction. Therefore, regular touch can help maintain general wellbeing, while lack of touch can facilitate negative feelings.

Determining the Symptoms

Since many symptoms are related to other stress disorders and issues, it might be hard to determine whether the lack of touch has any significant role in your mood, feelings, and behaviors. However, most commonly, people will feel an overwhelming sensation of loneliness. Other accompanying symptoms include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low satisfaction
  • Poor sleep
  • Fatigue

The psychological effects of lack of touch not only can isolate a person, but it might even dampen cognitive function. Such lack of cognitive function can lead to an even higher risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. While symptoms might not be the direct result of lack of touch, minding and tending to your touch needs can help alleviate the symptoms that may or may not be associated with other contributing factors.

Home Remedies and Practices

As the pandemic wains, so does the spirit of many that they will return to what once was, including being able to see friends and family uninhibitedly. While the return to “normal” might not be for some time, not only is there hope on the horizon, but there are home remedies in which you can practice to help soothe your touch needs. For starters, using a blanket can help alleviate your touch depravity. Wrapping yourself up in a blanket or using a weighted blanket can mimic the sensation of receiving a hug; this can help bring a sense of peace and calm. You can also try a self-massage. For example, messaging the vagus nerve in your neck can send a touch response throughout your body and help reduce stress.

Additionally, utilizing ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) techniques or recounting previous contact helps activate a memory touch response that can trigger the brain areas that respond to touch, thus promoting a calm and relaxed state. You can use a body pillow or a regular pillow. Not only can hugging a pillow mimic the sensation of cuddling, but it can help you sleep better. If you do not have an extra pillow, you can cuddle with your pets.

Finally, implementing exercise into your weekly regimen helps improve cognitive function and wellbeing. It also helps reduce feelings of stress and depression and even improves sleep.

Stay in Contact

Even if you cannot experience physical human interaction, maintaining consistent contact with others is still very important. There are many options for staying in contact. Whether you prefer video chat, text, email, USPS mail, or all of the above, research shows that consistent contact, primarily via video calls, can significantly reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Ensure you maintain regular contact, interact with friends and family, and continue to attend any support groups or therapy sessions. The more you can remain involved in social interactions, the better you will serve your overall health and wellbeing.

Touch deprivation is the sense of longing for physical contact. Humans are social creatures, and touch plays a significant role in balancing our mental and physical needs. If you feel lonely and are experiencing negative thoughts and behaviors, then the time to seek help is now. At START UP RECOVERY, we can help connect you with others that will help to support you in safe and comfortable settings. We believe that having a strong network is a pillar of lasting recovery and forward progress, which is why we offer 24/7 support. You never have to feel like you are the only one awake in the world. Remember, you are not alone in this experience, which is why we also help you create lasting bonds with other supportive and motivated people. Remember, your recovery should always come first, and you can take the first step today. You can find additional information on our facility and approach to recovery by calling START UP RECOVERY today at 310-773-3809.

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