Elanor Sung, LMT
Touch in a Time of Social Distancing
Right now, we are advised to distance ourselves from others, at least 6 feet. While this is essential for the health of our community and ourselves, it can be detrimental for the individual. Social distancing from others is not only psychologically taxing, but also physically and emotionally draining.
Suggestions have already been made by so many about how you can keep you socializing while social distancing, but one thing that has been left out is touch therapy.
Touch therapy is vital to our well-being, just as much as social interaction. It has been said that touch is our “primary language of compassion” and is “fundamental to human communication, bonding and health.” This is something that I think is underrepresented in this era of social distancing.
By no means and I saying that you should go out and get a massage or violate social distancing recommendations. Many who are violating the mandate from the governor are getting in trouble, which is not something I would recommend.
So, what can you do to get that touch you need?
Many studies have shown the benefits of giving hugs to someone (this can include kids, spouses, significant others and even fur babies). Hold the hug for about 20 seconds. It may feel awkward, but the signals to your brain need time to fire. Now, if you have stinky teenagers, you can refuse until they take a shower, or hold your breath, or just suffer through it.
Pat someone on the back or Give a High Five.
This is especially good for children, or people working from home. If you are, like I am, having to homeschool your child(ren), pat them on the back when they start work. High-five them when they are done with an assignment. Touch is so important for this population right now. “Embracing and patting children in distress has a soothing effect.” (Especially if they don’t feel great because they don’t get it, and we get frustrated because we don’t know how to teach it.) The same for those that are having to work from home. High five them at lunch or just randomly.
Touch also creates a positive association with an object or place when done out of kindness.
Give a massage.
I will be doing some simple “How To” videos about how to give a massage at home (first one is right here). You can rub the feet, hands, neck or back of someone else, or make them watch the videos to give you a home massage. Just a few minutes of touch can send signals of safety and trust. It also helps to release the anti-stress hormones and calms the nervous system.
Cuddle with someone/something.
If you have a partner or children, cuddle with them while binging the next episode of Tiger King or whatever you watch on TV.
But what if you don’t have someone to cuddle with? Simulated human connection is nearly as powerful. Snuggle with a fur baby or even a teddy bear. Sander Koole, a researcher with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands said, “Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object – such as a teddy bear – can soothe existential fears. Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”
There are many more ways to enjoy touch; these are just a few suggestions of what you can do to allow touch back into your life during this time of social distancing.
Be safe. Be well. And Blessings to you all!
 Hands on Research: Science of Touch, by Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research (accessed on April 8, 2020)
 Hugs and Kisses: The health impact of affective touch, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323143 (accessed April 8, 2020)
Touch May Alleviate Existential Fears for People With Low Self-Esteem, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/touch-may-alleviate-existential-fears-for-people-with-low-self-esteem.html (accessed April 8, 2020)