Many psychological and physical studies have proven that touch is a basic human need. Appropriate and consistent touch has been shown to aid in healthy sleep patterns, and even enhance academic performance. Experiencing positive contact on a routine basis is particularly important during early development. Positive and appropriate touch elicits positive attitude and emotion, negative touch has the equal and opposite effect. This translates into effective and acceptable communication with others, and vice versa. Thankfully, child rearing philosophies have evolved over the years to incorporate more touch into young ones lives. These benefits transfer into adulthood, demonstrated in decreased anxiety, depression, and aggressive tendencies.
There are two main types of touch: platonic and intimate. Many times when we think of touch, we think of intimate touch between partners or lovers. However, platonic touch is equally important to our wellbeing. One of the most common examples resides in our greetings and farewells. Many cultures around the world show affection while saying hello and goodbye. Hugging, kissing, and shaking hands are all actions that fulfill a need for touch, and can foster strong bonds. Saying hello or goodbye is a safe space to allow yourself to experience non-intimate touch from loved ones.
Massage and Bodywork
Touching an arm in conversation
A pat on the back
Without consistent and positive contact, touch deprivation can develop. Signs of deprivation can manifest in many ways, such as feeling lonely, anxious, depressed, and aggressive. Those affected may alienate themselves from friends and family, develop self-destructive habits, or body image illnesses.
Unfortunately, the elderly are particularly susceptible to the effects of touch deprivation. Living alone or in a nursing home can be isolating, and the elderly may have few opportunities for touch without regular visitors. If you have friends or family in this situation, you can help by simply holding their hand or giving long hugs during your visit. These small acts can make a difference in their mental and physical wellbeing. Massage is also a form of touch that can reap many benefits. Whether it's from you or from a professional, a massage could significantly elevate their mood, and in the long run, their health. Our older generations may not be open to receiving a full body massage, but starting with a hand, foot, or shoulder massage may be just the thing they need! Remember to use a gentle and light touch as their skin and tissues can be fragile. We've included a video from Bon Vital that shows appropriate massage techniques for an elderly family member or friend.
Relationships can suffer if positive contact isn’t regular. If you’ve felt distant or disconnected from each other, it is possible that incorporating more touch may help increase your communication overall, which can help you both to become more aware of any disconnect and discover underlying issues. This can be as simple as holding hands or snuggling more often. If it has been a long time, it may feel awkward at first, but don’t give up - the more you work at it, the more natural it will begin to feel. Here is a quick scalp massage you can offer your partner to create a connection:
If you’ve felt isolated, or have begun to feel the symptoms of touch deprivation, you can make small changes and healthy choices toward recovery. Try making greetings and farewells a ritual - make eye contact, touch their hands, hold hugs for longer. Tell a friend that you’d like to sit holding hands, it does not need to be romantic. Schedule a massage for yourself and receive a full 60 minutes of therapeutic touch. If that sounds like too much, you can start with a 30 minute session, and work your way up. Your Niasoma Bodywork therapists are here to help, and you can feel safe in our space to communicate your situation.
Touch is a vitally important part of being human. Increasing appropriate and healthy touch can make a big difference in your life and for those around you. Encourage closer relationships with friends and family by offering small gestures of touch and kindness. Schedule a massage for yourself or someone you love. The benefits are countless..
Hart, S., Field, T. Hernandez-Reif, M., Lundy, B. (1998). Preschoolers’ cognitive performance improves following massage. Early Child Development and Care, 98, 113-120.
Hertenstein, M. J. (2002). Touch: Its communicative functions in infancy. Human Development, 45, 70-94.