Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
May 16, 2020
Note: Please click on all the hyperlinks.
On Sunday, March 8, as I was leaving a personal training client’s home, she gave me a hug. Four days later, I had a dental appointment that ended with a quick elbow bump between myself and my dentist.
Then, in a flash, everything changed -- especially in my hometown of New York City. I live alone in the era of social distancing. Hence, I haven’t been touched since.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful that (so far) I’ve remained healthy and (relatively) stable in financial terms. But that doesn’t change the fact that I -- like all of us -- require something we may have been taking for granted: human touch. With this basic need being denied during the pandemic, we may be creating a ticking global time bomb of mental health issues.
Physical Touch 101
Whenever you’re touched by someone you trust, this welcome physical contact activates pressure receptors below the skin -- thus setting off an incredible, healing process. Your Pacinian corpuscles send a message to your vagus nerve which, in turn, slows down your nervous system by:
The more you hug, the more hands you hold, the more snuggles you enjoy, the less of a threat cortisol plays in your body. Under normal circumstances, cortisol serves as your body’s alarm -- ever ready to launch you into fight-or-flight mode when real or perceived danger is present. Thanks to this stress hormone, you will temporarily experience a burst of energy, enhanced memory, increased immunity, and a higher pain threshold. All this is obviously a good thing… except in instances of chronic stress.
Chronic stress = chronic cortisol. The negative outcomes of this equation include dangerously impaired cognitive performance and troubling physical symptoms like:
Human touch counters all of the above while simultaneously increasing the presence of what has been labeled the “cuddle hormone”: a neuropeptide called oxytocin.
“Oxytocin basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding,” explains Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist. “It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.” From this foundation grows trust, compassion, positive thinking, and an optimistic outlook.
Research shows that human touch nurtures human health by facilitating increases in:
Conversely, touch deprivation often results in higher levels of:
Which brings us to…
Making Due During Social Distancing
What can we do in an age when close contact is seen as potentially lethal and possibly illegal? How does someone like me, who lives alone, get a daily fix of oxytocin?
Good news: Self-touch may activate some of the same soothing processes as being touched by others. Plus, if you’re fortunate to share your home with an animal companion, there are many benefits to be gained from cuddling with a dog or cat (for everyone involved).
Beyond self-touch and pets, you can try replicating the positive effects of physical touch by focusing on your other senses, e.g.
Keep Physical Distance, Not Social Distance
If you can get outside for brief walks, remember that anyone you encounter may also be scared, angry, confused, or touch-deprived. Cultivate a sense of community in any way you can. Wave, nod, wish them well, and (as I mentioned in a previous article) let them know you’re smiling -- despite your mask. Eye smiles, my friend, are a thing.
The socially distanced connections you foster today just may turn into the hugs of tomorrow. If we can create that future now, in advance, we will all reap the much-needed benefits. Stay safe… but stay connected.
Mickey Z. can be found on Instagram here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!