Tuesday, April 06, 2021
We’ve been admonished for months now to stay socially distant from others to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Handshakes and hugs have been replaced with fist bumps and Zoom interactions. But has there been an unintended consequence of these health and safety measures? Scientists say yes; we are suffering from touch deprivation.
This is not new in the United States. In our culture, we generally touch people less often than people do in countries such as Italy and France. But the pandemic has exacerbated this problem. And it IS a problem.
Studies of people who are touch-deprived have found loneliness, stress, depression, anxiety, aggression, and lack of bonding. Healthy adults lacking frequent touch are more likely to get colds and other illnesses.
In contrast, positive, gentle touch has physical as well as emotional benefits. Touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which fosters feelings of well-being, compassion, and happiness. Touch also increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters which help regulate mood and relieve anxiety and depression. Touch depresses levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Pressure receptors stimulated by gentle touch signal the vagus nerve to calm the nervous system, lowering blood pressure and heart rate. And touch boosts the immune system by increasing levels of lymphocytes (white blood cells), including the NK (natural killer) cells which attack viruses and bacteria.
Studies of massage on diverse groups such as people with Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, pregnant women, and people with Seasonal Affective Disorder have found that massage therapy can reduce pain, promote relaxation, decrease depression and anxiety, lower stress levels, improve sleep, lower heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure, and improve the quality of life.
So hug your family and your close, healthy friends. And get that massage that you have been putting off for more than a year! It’s vital for both your peace of mind and your physical well-being!
—Jo McClaine, Lead Massage Therapist at MOVE by BJC