Human touch is a necessity for survival and with people all around the country social distancing and self-isolating to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, human touch is seemingly at an all time low, and in some instances has completely disappeared. We do not truly understand the implications of the Coronavirus’s disruption on human touch, but one thing is clear, platonic human touch like handshakes, high-fives, gently placing a hand on someone’s shoulder or a warm embrace are now a thing of the past for many.
Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests,“Touch is the fundamental language of connection...When you think about a parent-child bond or two friends or romantic partners, a lot of the ways in which we connect and trust and collaborate are founded in touch.”
Human touch has the power to calm us and decrease the body’s stress response. Positive touch positively affects the nervous system and also positively affects the immune system, the sympathetic nervous system, the digestive system and how well you sleep. One important message we receive from positive touch is being cared for. With COVID-19 disrupting our lives it is likely that it also disrupts the way we receive positive physical touch, and social distancing may leave casual and positive physical touch off of the table.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a neurochemical released as a result of positive touch and can help decrease stress and improve immunity. Oxytocin also helps us to build trust, and emotional connections. If physical touch is off the table for you it is vital to find alternatives to physical touch that also result in the release of this important neurochemical.
“Radha Agrawal, the co-founder and CEO of the global dance and wellness movement Daybreaker, coined the term D.O.S.E.—an acronym for the four neurochemicals responsible for happiness: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins—to illustrate how dance parties like Daybreaker can be beneficial for people’s physical and mental health. “When you create a dance experience driven by music, community and participation, that’s how you’re able to release all four happy brain chemicals,” Agrawal says.” -TIME Magazine
Alternatives to Physical Touch
While these options are not the exact same as physical touch, an in-person social distancing meetup is almost as effective for the release of oxytocin. Fortunately for those not quite ready for an in-person meet up, video conferencing is 80% as effective for managing stress and improving your immune system function.
Take time for interpersonal connection even on your work calls. The question “how are you?” should not be a superficial one, but one one that shows genuine interest in what is happening with your peers on the video call. It is not difficult to take the first five minutes of a call to “catch up.” Anxiety can almost immediately decline as a result of this kind of interaction. This is a simple way to emotionally connect with others.
Perhaps you are not using video chat for work, there are many other ways to connect online like scheduling a virtual dinner party with friends or family near or far. You can throw a dance party or join zoom yoga classes which are increasing in popularity.
What comforts you?
No matter if it is an object or an activity, now is a great time for seeking out what comforts you that is not physical touch. Objects with sentimental value can be comforting and bring joy, soothing negative feelings, and perhaps reminding us of love.
Perhaps you are comforted by luxury. Run yourself a bath and use your favorite bath bomb. Maybe a weighted blanket can help to soothe and comfort you. These are great ways to tap into your other powerful senses.
While none of these can completely replace physical touch it is a vital time to take care of yourself in unforeseen ways. This is the time to prioritize self-love and self-care.