Dr Antony Theodore, a doctorate in English literature and author of several books in his poem, The Power of Touch, says “We do not value the power of touch. The feeling of love that you convey through a loving touch is marvellous and beyond measure.”
Touch conveys multiple positive emotions: joy, love, gratitude, sympathy and more. “Of the five sense organs, it is the skin which is the largest organ of the body. Given that, it’s no surprise that humans thrive, heal and feel better with touch,” says Dr C Manjula Rao, Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad.
But thanks to the isolating effects of social media, cell phones, laptops, no-touch policies in schools and physical distancing mandated by covid-19, people are missing out on the important essence of touch. “Today, you rarely see people handshaking, hugging or napping on each other—be it at airports, railway stations or anywhere else. We are lost in the world of virtual connectivity,” says Dr Rao. “Now, we just are not touching.”
Given this scenario, the journal Nature Public Health Emergency Collection finds that there is a rising loneliness in different countries—whether due to increased awareness, or potentially to circumstantial events like a quarantine. It concludes that there is a need to develop efficient strategies to address this issue. “It requires an understanding of the causal processes, mechanisms that underlie people’s subjective conscious experience, cultural settings, which constitute individual experiences.”
Dr Rao suggests that there is a need to propagate on the healing effects of touch. “Most people do not realise how a simple pat on the back, touching the arm can help a person’s tension slip away.” She adds that one doesn’t have to be an adult or older person to benefit from touch. “Even infants and young children feel it.” US-based neuroscientist David J. Linden, author of Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind writes, “A child can be born blind or deaf and they will grow up just fine, with no cognitive impairments. Yet if an infant is deprived of loving social touch for the first two years of life, then all sorts of disasters unfold.”
A proof of what happens with lack of touch in children enfolds in a research done on Romanian orphanages during the 1980s and 1990s. The study finds that children who were deprived of loving touch had psychological and intellectual difficulties, improper development of immune systems and working problems in their digestive systems.
Dr Rao says parents/guardians from time-to-time should indulge in expressing care to their child—in the form of touch. Touching expresses trust, it reduces loneliness and improves self-esteem. “Even in medical and psychological contexts, studies have noted betterment with human touch.” According to a 2015 study in the International Journal of Nursing Science, therapeutic touch helps promote relaxation and alleviates the symptoms of agitation among patients with dementia and improves daily behaviour and cognitive function. In another study Dr Manuel Arroyo-Morales and his team at University of Granada in Spain found that cancer patients who underwent massage therapies had partially reduced pain and fatigue, improved immune system and reduced anxiety. “Massage therapy reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow, and relieves joint and body stiffness. It also releases endorphins, which act as a natural painkiller in the bloodstream,” adds Dr Rao.
Tips to Manage Touch Starvation in Covid-19
Humans have great adaptation skills. “We will re-learn to bring the same joy in different ways,” says Dr Rao. She agrees that while nothing can replace the benefits of positive human touch, trying alternative exciting ways can help chart new ways.
1. Rewind the happy moments. Look at their photo while you talk to them on the phone. It enhances the emotional connection. “Your memory is like a bank. Withdraw some good instances from that account to feel better,” says Dr Rao.
2. Visualise and imagine the synergies between you and the person you like. Imagine how it would be hugging him/her. This visual mindful activity may help you feel better.
3. Write a journal. It helps you recover from the sadness of not being able to touch that person. Journaling helps reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
4. Practice intentional communication. For instance, if you miss your best friend or the person you like, instead of joining them on a group call, make a personal attempt to talk or chat with the person for a long time. Refrain from other distractions while you do that.