Yesterday, a woman I know only slightly rubbed my arm. “I like to touch people,” she said. “It’s good for us.” She happens to be a very sweet, kind person whom I like, so I didn’t mind. We had a little exchange about how we felt we had to do air hugs at the beginning of the pandemic. Some of us still do, but we suffered because of it.
A recent article in Psychology Today states that human touch calms our nervous center, lowers blood pressure and slows down our heartbeat. It lowers the release of cortisol, our stress hormone and triggers the release of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone.” PET scans have found that the brain quiets in response to stress when a person’s hand is held. The effect is greatest when the hand being held is that of a loved one, but it still works even if it’s just a stranger. Nice to have the science to back this up, isn’t it?
A few years ago, another acquaintance asked me why I hadn’t returned her hug. I was totally unaware I was supposed to “hug back.” What a revelation that was! I recalled another friend who suffered abuse as a child saying she had to remind herself to “feel” a hug. Wow! I wasn’t feeling them either. Even my handshakes were just a social convention without mindfulness.
So… I’m reminding myself to slow down and be in the moment with those hugs and handshakes, to really feel them and not be so guarded. We all have our reasons for how we react to human touch, and there is a whole array of experiences that make this harder for some of us. But we owe it to ourselves for our own mental and physical well- being, to let ourselves feel and enjoy the warmth of an embrace.
Of course, there are those for whom touch is difficult, whether a neurological issue or trauma related. So be cautious if this is you and remember self-care.
How have you handled the lack of touch during these times? Are you hesitant to touch people?