The Science of Touch Deprivation - Seeker's Thoughts

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Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

The Science of Touch Deprivation

Touch is more than a simple gesture - it's an emotional experience that can establish deep emotional ties, ease anxiety and even promote healing.

But what happens when people lack physical contact? As many have seen during the COVID-19 lockdown, skin hunger can make people crave physical affection - like hugs, handshakes and shoulder pats.

Overcoming Touch Starvation

Touch starvation needn't last forever. Our bodies were meant to interact positively with others for emotional development, stress relief, relationship formation and overall health reasons.

Long periods without human touch can make people uneasy and anxious, leading to what researchers refer to as "skin hunger", an intense craving for tactile sensations such as hugs or cuddles that could potentially have severe mental and physical repercussions including depression and anxiety.

Studies suggest that lack of touch can trigger our bodies' stress response, which in turn results in increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and muscle tension. It may also suppress digestive and immune systems thereby increasing risk for infection.

Negative physical effects can contribute to poor sleep. Without touch, our body cannot release natural calming hormones like oxytocin that help relax us and enhance focus. Over time, prolonged lack of touch may also result in post-traumatic stress disorder and weaker immunity systems.

A study that demonstrated how those experiencing COVID-19 social restrictions experienced higher levels of touch deprivation than those who weren't affected. To measure this phenomenon, participants were asked how much touching they experienced during COVID-19 pandemic as well as questions regarding demographic factors like age, gender, country of residence, psychiatric history and health conditions; additionally they completed a short version of State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-SF as well as questions assessing experiences and attitudes related to touch experiences and attitudes.

Results indicated that those reporting having or wanting less physical contact during a pandemic reported lower wellbeing scores. Researchers speculated this may be because people experiencing difficulty finding safe ways to interact with one another had more difficulty connecting. They recommend people reach out through phone or video chat as well as group activities with safe distance between participants such as yoga, painting or tai chi classes.

Touch Deprivation in the Digital Age

As a society, we're increasingly communicating through computers and phones - missing out on some of the essential benefits of human touch in early development, emotional regulation, promoting mental health, relieving stress and creating healthy relationships - not to mention showing kindness towards others! Touch is key for early brain development, emotional regulation and showing our empathy towards one another.

Studies have connected lack of touch with loneliness and depression, making this an integral component of human nature. According to Plato's analysis of five senses, touch was considered most essential for our collective evolution as human beings.

Researchers are slowly but surely coming to appreciate the significance of human touch on brain activity, yet this field remains relatively young. Because we don't fully understand its impacts yet, it is difficult to know exactly how much touch we require or when our touch intake has reached a dangerously low point - but there are signs to look out for that we may be touch deprived.

Touch deprivation can affect anyone of any age and gender; senior citizens in particular were particularly prone to it due to COVID-19 restrictions that restrict social interactions and may result in more time alone at home. 

Therefore, encouraging socialization among seniors while providing gentle touches like patting the back or holding hands may help make them feel connected and reassured.

Research has demonstrated that those lacking physical contact have a higher risk of depression and anxiety, as well as increased suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, being touch deprived has been shown to lead to poor body image which in turn has been linked with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

There are various strategies for combatting touch deprivation, such as making an active effort to connect more frequently. Remember that everyone's experiences and needs vary; so finding what works for you is key. Be mindful when looking for opportunities; always prioritize safety and respect boundaries while engaging in any physical contact without first seeking consent first. Seek guidance from qualified mental health professionals when managing such challenges.

The Role of Touch in Mental Health

Human bodies have an instinctual need to connect and bond with those close to us, especially close family members. This urge can be found across cultures worldwide where touching is seen as an essential component of social life. Unfortunately, many individuals lack this need and it may lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression; studies have also demonstrated how lack of touch weakens cognitive functions leading to feelings of emptiness or loneliness that lead to self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse or suicidal thoughts.

Humans have the capability to overcome feelings of touch deprivation through several strategies. Reaching out for support from loved ones or mental health professionals, and initiating regular physical contact are among them. Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, providing us with information regarding both pleasant and unpleasant touch sensations to the brain. 

When engaging in enjoyable actions such as hugging or handholding, oxytocin, an important bonding hormone released from the brain to facilitate social bonding is released as a result. At birth and throughout our lives, the process of touch gaining begins early on and continues throughout our lives. Without enough touch stimulation from others or being touched themselves, individuals can suffer symptoms like irritability, sadness and anxiety - however touch's release of oxytocin can also help regulate moods, relieve stress, and promote overall physical wellbeing.

Studies have demonstrated the power of simple touch to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, alleviate pain, enhance our perception of other people's emotions, promote healing and recovery from various conditions such as heart disease and stroke, as well as help promote their recovery.

The current study used retrospective self-report of touch frequency without controlling for social desirability bias, so participants may have reported feeling less touch over the past week because they wanted it rather than experiencing it directly. Future research should attempt to address this by randomizing order of questions or using between-subject designs so as to reduce potential confounding variables.

Healing Through Touch

Touch can be therapeutic; unfortunately, during the Covid-19 lockdown it has become harder and harder for many people to experience these forms of touch that once were plentiful. Many are experiencing loneliness which may lead to depression or anxiety and an intense longing for tactile sensations like patting on the back, hugging, or holding hands - effects which many can relate to touch deprivation leading to. Many are experiencing skin hunger with longing for physical sensations like pats on the back, hugs or hand holding - along with intense longing for tactile sensations that provide much-needed relief from feeling aloneness caused by touch deprivation; in this situation many are experiencing the effects of deprivation including loneliness that can lead to depression or anxiety as well as intense longings for physical contact such as pat on back, hugging or handholding which have become hard to come by; these feelings of touch deprivation often manifest themselves into feeling isolated feelings of deprivation including feeling lonely due to depression or anxiety due to depression caused by deprivation due to touch deprivation caused by deprivation such as feeling deprivation leading them feeling isolated leading them feeling as well as experiencing these forms of touch deprivation including feelings such as feeling lonely due to depression or anxiety caused by touch deprivation leading to feeling an overwhelming sense of needing such tactile sensations such as pat-back or holding someone's hand-holding or patting becoming prevalent over time and have caused many people wanting tactile sensations such as pat-back, hugging/holding someone being held on hand-holding when there just being so few available because you just simply being so hard of touch deprivation being absent due to being deprived of touch-deprived from wanting physical needs inability having been denied of touch deprivation/deprivation of touch-deprived through deprivation that leads to depression/an deprived because these sensations being lacking so needing or holding out or holding/holding or hand holding-hold-holding something-thus/holding-n-huch when touched out there and/holding or maybe another hugging/holding to the other than normal and hand-holdings or holding that special someone special when once-like when there before, let-by someone being there! or holding your/holding/ 'ned to someone.

Over time, these feelings can negatively affect mental health and must therefore be addressed in order to remain well. Therapeutic solutions include meditation, yoga, massage and energy work as effective methods for relieving skin hunger during pandemics. While none of these practices replaces close relationships in terms of bonding needs and caretaking duties, these techniques can provide some respite from touch deprivation symptoms during outbreaks.

One such approach, Healing Touch, was pioneered by nurse Janet Mentgen in the 1980s. Drawing upon her experience working in emergency rooms and home healthcare, she found that using both physical touch and energy work combined was an effective means of alleviating pain, stress, and illness. Today Healing Touch can be found across hospitals and clinics nationwide as well as veterans health centers; one study even showed combat veterans receiving Healing Touch experienced "clinically significant reductions" of their PTSD symptoms after treatment with Healing Touch.

Science behind Ayurved practices stems from the belief that all living things possess an energy field which surrounds and penetrates their bodies, as well as their environments. This field interacts with that of other living beings to form an overall universal order. Human energy fields have various names depending on traditional medical systems - life force or qi for instance; Ayurved practices use prana for this vital life force.

As this pandemic sweeps across our nation, its lockdown and social distancing provide us all with an opportunity to rediscover touch that we often take for granted or neglectfully consume. By exploring ways to nourish your needs for physical intimacy and incorporate touch into daily rituals, you can start healing the wounds caused by this unprecedented pandemic.

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