When you think about the 5 senses we are born with, touch, hearing, smell, sight and taste you might sit in wonder of our innate and evolutionary gifts we possess. Touch is the first of the five senses to develop and yet some of us are losing this sense in a world where society is warning us to keep our distance, for fear of being misunderstood, seen as unprofessional or ‘perhaps putting ourselves at risk of potential harassment cases or litigation.’ It is no wonder that the power of touch is diminishing and we are becoming more isolated, depressed and lonely as a result. We need human touch not only to survive but to thrive too.
I remember very vividly being consoled by my secondary school teacher after she found me crying at break time. In her soft voice she asked me what was wrong placing a gentle touch on my shoulder. After telling her some of the girls in my class had teased me because of my home-made, handkerchief, elasticated tie I’d worn that day she knelt down and hugged me.
In that moment I felt safe, respected, cared about and reassured in one swift action which replaced any amount of words. She told me it was a great tie and that they were probably jealous and to ignore them. She made me laugh and then grabbed my hand in hers as she stood up squeezing it reassuringly. I was 11 years old at the time and that memory has stayed with me with fondness. I may have forgotten what she looked like but I have never forgotten how she made me feel through the power of touch. I have since understood that there are times when only a touch can communicate where words fail. Other such times are like when someone has died or when you are experiencing love and pure joy.
Touch lets you feel connected to others, it reduces anxiety, helps you bond, lowers your blood pressure, relaxes you, has a sensory effect, helps heal, speeds recovery time and so much more. It has positive effects on your overall wellbeing which cannot be denied. Touch has been shown to help alleviate depression, improve your immune system, reduce both emotional and physical pain and calm the heart rate. Teachers, doctors and other professionals in the health and social care sector report better results and ratings when appropriate touch is used during the relationship between patient/client and professional. A simple touch on the arm, coupled with eye contact can be very powerful indeed especially when used with positive encouragement and reassurance.
At a wellbeing conference I had the pleasure of listening to a woman who described herself as ‘a professional cuddler’ and of course I asked her to explain what she did. Her reply was this, ‘I use the power of platonic touch to boost the mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing of my clients in a safe environment. I simply cuddle them better.’
Think of this for a moment, lying cuddled up with your loved one, hearing the sound of their breathing, or their heart beat, feeling the warmth of their body against yours, holding each other’s hands, the senses are truly amazing. In this moment you feel immense love, joy, peace and you feel well and happy. Cuddling with a loved one is one of the best ways to reduce stress levels.
When we cuddle, hug, touch or are touched our brain releases oxytocin and the more oxytocin we release the less stressed we are. Oxytocin helps inspire positive thinking and optimism in life. It helps us connect with others and foster a sense of well-being and happiness. The role of oxytocin for bonding also helps generate feelings of compassion during our interaction with others and contributes to our ability to trust others in social situations. By simply placing your hand on the arm of someone you care about or letting them do the same to you conveys trust, respect and care.
Don’t worry if you are single right now, it doesn’t mean you miss out. Touch doesn’t have to come exclusively from your significant other. You can feel the benefits of touch by having a hug with your bestie, petting your dog or cat, having a ‘heart-to-heart’ with someone you trust, giving yourself a head massage, holding hands with your family member or friend, giving yourself a hand or foot massage, hugging someone you care about for at least 20 seconds (I say 20 seconds as this is enough time for the body to produce and release the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin).
Self-touch has its own benefits, after all, no-one knows you better than you know yourself right? There are a lot of simple ways to put touch into your day. A soak in a warm bath, exfoliate your body, scratch your own back, use your nails to gently stroke your arms, explore your body with your hands, have a massage. When you massage the skin on your body you help stimulate the nervous system that helps calm the body and mind. Conscious touching is a simple way of destressing yourself and regaining equilibrium. Massage your elbows, ankles and knees. Massage your head, hands and feet. Love your body and it will love you back. Just be aware of how much hugs and cuddles the other person feels comfortable with and respect that some people do not feel comfortable with touch, for personal reasons and perhaps past experiences.
When was the last time you enjoyed touching and being touched? If it has been a while, it’s time to get more tactile whether by yourself or sharing with another.
Suze Somerville is a Wellbeing Advisor and Coach with over 15 years’ experience in wellbeing practices and personal development including stress and anger management, mental health issues, confidence and esteem to name a few. Suze is an Author and also trained in Mindfulness and Reiki. She runs Wellbeing Workshops for Women. Look out for her next event in Kent and surrounding which can be purchased through Eventbrite.