Touch Matters: The Importance of Physical Contact for Mental Health
BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|
Have you ever noticed how a hug from a loved one or holding hands with someone special can instantly make you feel better? As human beings, physical touch is essential to our emotional wellbeing. However, in the COVID-19 Pandemic, social distance measures forced us to limit physical contact with others. This raises an important question: What impact does the lack of physical touch have on our mental health?
According to WebMD  , “skin is the largest organ in your body and sends good and bad touch sensations to your brain. When you engage in pleasant touch, like hugging, your brain releases a hormone called oxytocin. This makes you feel good and firms up emotional and social bonds while lowering anxiety and fear. This reaction begins at birth. When babies are born, doctors suggest that mothers hold and comfort them often to promote healthy development.”
Another important point is the one that mentions Tifanny Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine  : “I think social media has been really detrimental to touch. Being on your phone is distancing people physically from each other. It used to be that in airports, you would see people hugging and napping on each other. Now they are just not touching.”
This last point is reaffirmed by Jesse Kahn, a director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center  : “Physical touch does things for us like: release oxytocin, reduce stress and calm our nervous system, making it an important, core physical and emotional need.” Additionally, he mentions, “sometimes we know right away I need to be touched, other times it shows you through our existing depression symptoms. The big one is loneliness. You might not realize you are craving physical touch from others, but if you find yourself feeling frequently lonely and longing for the close company of others, then there is a good chance your need for touch is not being met”.
Being touched can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, lessen depression and anxiety, boost your immune system, and even relieve pain. Hugging and other forms of nonsexual touching cause your brain to release oxytocin, known as the “bonding hormone”. This stimulates the release of other feel-good hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, while reducing stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine  .” In conclusion, physical touch is a powerful tool for promoting emotional wellbeing. From reducing stress and anxiety to increasing feelings of happiness and connection.