The power of touch is underrated. Here's why.

It’s not a gimmick, and now more than ever seems so important. What am I talking about? Hugs of course.

Many studies have demonstrated that human touch has incredible qualities to calm the nervous system, decrease the heart rate, lower the respiratory rate and steady the mind. It is even thought to improve our immune function as well as induce the release of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

Hugging also helps to develop closeness, trust, and to foster a sense of mutual understanding and caring. And the actual act of hugging also releases oxytocin stored in the pituitary gland, which is often affectionately referred to as the "love hormone" because it helps us bond with our newborns.

That feeling of love, familiarity, and fellowship is why we have the instinct to hug our children, our parents, and our friends. Knowing this, it's no surprise that newborns who are not held regularly often have difficulty with growth and development.

Why physical touch can change your brain (literally).

It’s not just in the young that this physical touch is important either. The adult brain retains the ability to adapt and change throughout life depending on what we do, how we think, our ability to express emotion, and to what we are exposed.

At any stage in life, the brain can strengthen existing synapses between cells as well as build new connections and improve signalling transmission. This means that certain exercises or experiences can decrease anxiety and depression, enhance cognition, and improve our confidence and outlook on life. Being touched by others can help foster a sense of belonging to a community, of feeling cared for. And, we don't need a partner or lover to gain the benefits of physical touch. We can still experience the positive effects even with a hand on a shoulder, a hold of a hand, or a touch on the arm from someone we care about in a totally platonic way.

So at a time of social isolation how can we create this same feeling without physical touch from another person. Give yourself a virtual hug.

Wrap your arms around yourself. 

Bring your left arm across your chest and place your left hand on your right shoulder or upper arm. Bring your right arm across your chest, placing your hand on your left shoulder or upper arm. You can reverse the order, just find a position that's most comfortable for you.

·    If you prefer, you can also wrap your arms more around your midsection. Experiment with arm and hand placement until you find a position that's most comforting.

Give yourself a nice big squeeze. 

Press both arms into your body. Mimic the pressure that you feel when you get a reassuring bear hug. Don't squeeze so hard that it's painful, but just enough so that you feel secure.

Hold for as long as necessary. 

Sometimes a quick hug is all you need, while other times you might want a longer hug. Find what works for you.

Keep squeezing until you feel a sense of calmness. Repeat as necessary.

Hug a pillow. 

This is a great way to get the comfort of a hug, without another person. If you don't have a pillow nearby, you can hug anything like a blanket, a jacket, a soft toy, or anything with a soft texture.

·    Make sure the object you’re hugging belongs to you.

Hug nature. 

There is nothing like getting outside and getting some love from nature. If you're feeling down, venture outside into a safe space and find a nice sunny patch of grass to relax on. Stretch your arms wide and imagine hugging all of Mother Nature. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and feel the earth hugging you back.

·    Spending time in the sun can help improve mood, so this works best when the weather is nice.  Just wear sunscreen!

·    If the weather is bad, sit by a window and appreciate whatever weather you do have. Admire the beauty of the rain, the power of the thunder, or the warmth of the sun through the glass. Hug yourself or something soft while you take in the great outdoors.

Find virtual or long-distance hugging partners. 

Post a status on Facebook that you need a hug, and you'll be sure to get some, “Sending hugs!” comments. Simply knowing that others love you is sometimes all it takes to get the relief of a hug. You can also call, text, or FaceTime someone that you love, like a friend or a family member.

  • While virtual hugs are not exactly the same thing as physical hugs, you can get some of those good vibes from an encouraging conversation.

Leave notes for yourself. 

This is an easy way to get the warm fuzzy feelings that you get from a hug, and it's just as easy. Leave little messages around your house to boost your mood when you need it the most. Here are some ideas to get you started:

·    Leave a Post-It note on the bathroom mirror that says, “You're beautiful.”

·    Stick a note on your fridge or coffee kettle that says, “Have a great day– you got this!”

·    Tuck a note under the third sheet of loo roll (if you have any!) that says "You're doing great! Keep it up!"

·    If words and phrases don't help you, consider using pictures instead. You can use images printed from the internet, or doodle them yourself.

 

How to use physical touch to enhance your life.

If you’re self isolating but with a loved one who you can touch then you can reap the benefits of a simple hug by:

1. Hugging your family three to five seconds longer than you normally would.

2. Touch someone who is suffering or feeling sad or lost.

3. Hold hands with your partner or your child.

It's nice to know that something we instinctively do is backed by science as an effective way to enhance our lives, our relationships, and even our ability to heal. It's just another reason to believe that wellness isn't just about the individual, it's about all of us.

 

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