The Health Benefits of Touch
By Sarah Novak
Touch is an important aspect of our evolution. Babies start off in the womb and then, after birth, they have to be held to survive. Babies are not independent of their parents until years later. As adults, we need touch to balance our hormones and to feel safe and loved. Touch is as important to our overall health as diet and exercise. Here is why touch is important and how to make sure that you are getting your fill.
Table Of Contents:
Why We Do Not Get Enough Touch?:
It has been a year of social isolation. This year, in the midst of a pandemic, touch could literally kill you. Still, COVID also reminded us of how important touch is to our health. But even before that, many of us did not get enough healthy touch. While in the United States, hugging is very often a part of our greetings, sexual touch is looked upon with shame. In this country, we tend to have an unhealthy relationship with sex and with healthy touch in general. But luckily, there is a lot you can do to fix this.
The Health Benefits Of Touch:
Touch is so important for a number of reasons:
- Communicating Emotions And Building Relationships - A wide breadth of research has shown the health benefits of touch. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that “not only does touch affect emotion, but also emotional expressions affect touch perception.” This means that touch is really important for humans in terms of communicating emotions.
- Helping Children Feel Safe - Children that do not experience healthy touch in childhood are more likely to isolate themselves as adults and have trouble connecting with others. They are also more likely to feel unsafe and not taken care of in life.
- Staving Off Depression And Anxiety - Healthy touch in general is important for reducing anxiety and depression. When you kiss or hug, it releases the feel good hormones that our bodies require. If you do not get enough of these hormones, it can lead to anxiety and depression.
So now that you know touch is important, here are some signs that you are not getting enough:
How To Get Enough Touch:
This year and in our society in general, more and more of us are experiencing “touch starvation”, which means that we are seeing the physical and mental repercussions of not getting enough touch. Luckily, there are a number of ways to enjoy healthy touch if you are not getting enough. Here are a few ideas:
It is one of the best ways to enjoy healthy touch. Massages reduce the amount of cortisol coursing through the body and, at the same time, they increase many of the feel good hormones that we depend on to stabilize our mood. Although more research needs to be done, massage has been shown in some studies to decrease depression and anxiety in study participants. Light touch massage, on the very surface of the skin, has also been shown to reduce pain in women during labor.
Kinds of massage:
- Swedish Massage - This is your most basic massage. It is a lighter touch massage that is known to destress and calm the nerves.
- Deep Tissue Massage - This is a really important tool for those that are experiencing chronic pain or a sports injury, for example, that may require a deeper massage treatment. This is not the most relaxing form of massage sometimes because it can be painful.
- Hot Stone Massage - In this form, practitioners use hot stones to manipulate and massage tight muscles. The heat of the stones is relaxing to the entire body and helps the muscles to further soften.
2. Thai Yoga
Thai yoga also called Thai massage is a type of massage but it is so different that it deserves to be in an entirely different category. In Thai yoga, the practitioner does yoga on their clients, moving the body into various yoga postures using their own body. It is really effective for stress relief. If you are looking to provide stress relief to your partner or your own clients, try Thai yoga for stress relief. Here is what you need to know.
- Sitting between the legs, cup your partner’s ankles and place the weight of your body on the heels. Push down on the arches of the feet and the balls of the feet as well.
- Hold and breathe. As you are holding onto your partner’s body in Thai massage, take a few moments to stop and feel connected to one another.
- With your partner’s feet placed squarely on your belly, fold forward, bending his or her knees into their own body. This helps to loosen up tension across the low back and across the hips.
- With your partner’s knees still placed on your belly, drop her/his knees to the right and then to the left to loosen up and stretch the low back. Then start doing little circles with the knees, continuing to open up the hips and the knees. If your partner is really relaxed, then you will feel the weight of their legs. However, if they are not relaxed they will still be trying to hold their legs in place.
- Encourage your partner to further relax and to let go of any muscular energy. Whoever is doing the massage should be the one doing the work.
- From a standing position, sway their fully extended legs from side to side, allowing the entire upper body to open up. Keep swinging the body until you feel a sense of letting go.
This is another important form of touch that can be beneficial if you feel like you are not getting enough. Reflexology uses accupressure points on the feet to coordinate with other parts of the body. Different points on the foot correspond with internal organs and systems of the body. For example, digestion, cardiovascular health, mental health, and the list goes on. Besides, what is better for your health than a good foot massage?
Reflexology for stress relief:
You can pinpoint areas that are helpful for distressing the body. These points include:
- Adrenal Gland Massage Points - This is just below the big toe mound on the arch of the foot. Press down into this point and you can almost immediately feel a sense of relaxation. Make sure that you work on both feet.
- Diaphragm Line reflex - This is a point midway on the foot, right under the metatarsal heads. Walk your thumb across the diaphragm reflex. This is so important for reducing stress because in those times when we feel stressed, we may have trouble breathing and feel shortness of breath. This point can provide relief. Opening up the diaphragm using reflexology is meant as a counterpoint to this.
- Solar Plexus - Under the big toe mound, midway across the foot, you will find the solar plexus, which is an important point for relieving stress. If you are working on someone else, push both your thumbs into each point, allowing the weight of your body to deepen the pressure.
4. Hold Hands
It might seem silly, but hand holding can go a long way to feeling connection. If you do not hold your partner’s hands enough, consider reaching in once in a while. Hand holding not only improves your connections to the people you love, it has also been shown to release oxytocin, the hormone that is linked with feelings of love. As mentioned above, hand holding has also been linked to reduced feelings of pain. The bottom line is that you should reach out and grab your partner. If you are not comfortable hand holding for long periods of time, a little goes a long way. Reach out and touch your partners’ hands for a few minutes and then let go again.
Hugging is an important greeting for me. I almost always reach out and hug people when I greet them. It has been really difficult not being able to do this with COVID. Luckily, we are slowly but surely getting ourselves back to normal. Like other forms of touching, hugging releases important hormones that we need to feel healthy and happy. If you do not hug people when you are greeting them, why not give it a try?
6. Get A Pet
Animals supply us with unconditional love and they also love to be petted. A pet can be the best companion when you need it the most. If you cannot support your own pet, consider volunteering at an animal shelter where you can cuddle and pet all of the animals that do not have a home and are not getting the affection that they need. If you cannot find a human to love on, know that there are so many pets that could use some love and attention and they are just waiting for you to reach out and give them the love they deserve.
7. Get Pampered
If you are starved for touch, getting your nails done and having the resulting hand and foot massage might be just the thing. At the same time, going to a salon and getting your hair cut or just enjoying a head massage could also be a great way to enjoy some healthy touch and get your endorphins flowing. Sometimes we all just need to be pampered and there is nothing wrong with that. Besides, I am not sure what is better than a head massage.
8. Be Affectionate
Use healthy touch in your daily life. Be affectionate and loving to those around you. Hug your partner, kids, and pets. Embrace and hold people around you. Let your kids be near. Reach out and love your spouse. If you want others to be affectionate to you, remember you need to show them the affection that they deserve as well. That goes for friends, family, pets, and whomever you know that needs a hug. This year so many of us would be better off if we got the hugs we deserved. We all deserve to feel loved and when we do not, it can have long term mental and physical health impacts. This goes for all of the old people in your life who are some of the most touch deprived people in our society. Do not forget to give your mom and grandma a big, long hug.
Tapping is an emotional freedom technique (EFT) that originated in traditional Chinese Medicine, potentially dating back to 6000 BC. Tapping combines touch with the body's natural energy, or chi, in order to "rewire" the body's flow of energy. This is done by palpating certain areas of the body to release energy blockages, increasing the flow of energy throughout the body. Tapping has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression and improve a number of health biomarkers including reduced cortisol levels, blood pressure & inflammation (PMID: 30777453, 22986277). For more information on tapping you can check out our article, "Tapping For Health: The Benefits of Tapping."