The lack of connection we are still struggling with as a consequence of the pandemic has definitely taken a toll on most of us. We have almost forgotten what it feels like to hug someone we hold dear. Our social interactions have collapsed to a minimum. As a result, our mental and physical health is at risk of falling apart. Meanwhile, all we need to bounce back from that dark place is physical affection.
To begin with, we crave human touch from the very first time we are welcomed in this world. As newborns, we need skin-to-skin contact to survive, as it helps regulate our temperature, heart rate, and breathing. Besides, as noted by Psychology Today, it increases mothers’ relaxation hormones and aids in the release of oxytocin.
On the contrary, when we experience skin hunger, also known as touch starvation, a condition that occurs when we don’t get enough physical touch, we feel mentally and physically fatigued. Our energy levels decrease rapidly, while our stress levels skyrocket. Distressingly, the lack of physical affection also makes us feel anxious and depressed.
An experiment from 1965, whose results couldn’t be more accurate today, reveals that touch could be more valuable than food when it comes to survival.
Harry Harlow, whose work is now considered a “classic” in behavioral science, proved that babies attach to their mothers not because they provide food, but because they provide comfort, companionship, and love through physical affection.
Harlow demonstrated that during several tests involving baby monkeys and inanimate surrogate mothers made from wire and wool. Interestingly, as each newborn became attached to its particular “mother,” it was able to recognize its unique face and preferring it above others.
The baby monkeys were then given an option between a soft, cuddly clothed “mother” and the wire “mother”. Although only the wire “mothers” provided food, the infants willingly spent more time with the cuddly ones.
What about the correlation between anxiety, depression, and stress, and touch?
In the years after Harlow’s groundbreaking experiment, many scientists have uncovered undeniable evidence that touch starvation damages our mental, as well as our physical health. For instance, it has been discovered that touch calms our nervous center and slows down our heartbeat.
Moreover, it lowers blood pressure and cortisol, our stress hormone, while also helping us release oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” for its major role in supporting emotional bonding.
Studies have also shown that those who suffer from skin hunger are more likely to suffer from immune system diseases. It turns out that our immune response is dependent on the physical affection we receive.
So, how can we increase and improve the physical connection we have with others?
Unfortunately, the global pandemic we are still struggling with makes it extremely hard for us to improve the quality of human touch in our lives. Still, there are people lucky enough to live with their families or be surrounded by their friends at places where the Covid-19 restrictions allow some kind of socialization. If you are one of them, then don’t hesitate to hug your loved ones more often, hold your parents’ hands to let them know how much they mean to you, and kiss your partner as many times as you want to express your love for them.
In case your contacts are still limited, Psychology Today writer and psychologist Nicole K. McNichols suggests massage therapy, as it is “one of the most effective ways to benefit from the therapeutic benefits of touch.” You could also try any other spa treatment that involves touch to satisfy your skin hunger.
And if you have a pet, spending time with them also helps ease the symptoms of touch starvation.
Of course, any form of touch should happen with consent from both sides. Only because someone is suffering from touch deprivation, does not give them the right to cross others’ boundaries.
Have you ever suffered from skin hunger? Do you believe in the correlation between the lack of physical affection and anxiety? Leave a comment to let us know!