The importance of your daily dose of Vitamin T.
By Dr. Emma Wood
Humans need touch. I was reminded of this recently while listening to a podcast in which a woman shared about her partners’ struggle with cancer treatment. The treatment caused touch to be unbearable for her partner, and in turn caused her a different kind of pain- the absence of touch. She shared that she would often leave the hospital and get a manicure just so that she could be touched by someone.
This story, poignant in many ways, reminded me of the necessity of touch. Most people fall on a spectrum of interacting with touch. Some people are “touchy feely” types who hug everyone they meet. This does not describe me, but I do enjoy being friends with those sorts of people. You can always expect a warm embrace when meeting at common grounds or Cameron Park. Other people only like touch when it is offered by a loved one, or a partner, and a handshake or high five is sufficient for their day to day interactions. Most of us probably fall somewhere on a spectrum between these two people. But all of us have in our human DNA the need for physical touch.
I remember during my first semester at college feeling starved for physical touch. I was 7 hours away from home and knew no one. Relationships take time to build and discovering how touch will be received by a new friend is always a bit of a risk. Eventually I found my friend group, some of whom were compatible with me in terms of physical affection, but it wasn’t until my sister joined me at college that I really felt a secure sense of physical comfort.
The touch I am talking about is clearly non-sexual in nature. It is about nurturing, sensing, conveying compassion and acknowledging our physical selves. The mind-body connection is a significant pathway. If you have taken Psychology 101 you might have heard about Harry Harlow’s Monkeys, who chose a fake furry mother to get comfort over a wire mother that provided milk. The monkeys chose physical connection over sustenance; Harlow concluded that “contact comfort” was essential to the psychological development and health of infant monkeys. There have also been studies that show infants that are not touched often display developmental delays and often develop life-long relational deficits that prevent them from feeling intimacy in relationships. Other studies have shown that absence of touch in infants may account for failure to thrive and even death.
The importance of touch to emotional health and wellness has also been well established with research showing that touch triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that decreases stress-related responses. Additionally stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress.
Being mindful of your need for touch can be an important piece in your mental health repertoire. It can come free in the form of hand holding, pats on the back, hugs, and casual touch in our relationships. Another wonderful tool, as mentioned at the beginning of this blog is a professional service.
Massage is one of the healthiest things an individuals can do to improve the wellness of their mind-body connection. I know that often massage is a luxury one may struggle to afford, but what differentiates the expense from other ways we spend money is that it has lasting effects for our physical and emotional wellness. Getting a massage causes muscles to unclench, a racing heart rate to slow, heightened blood pressure to fall, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol to drop. In that relaxed state, your body is able to regroup and recharge. Additionally massage can help to create a more robust immune system. Knowing what the research shows it is clear that massage is not just good for our muscles; it’s good for our entire physical and mental health.
Michelangelo said “To touch can be to give life.” Act Locally Waco and LaBella Visage want to help you reduce your stress and increase your mind-body health by offering readers 20% off massage services for the month of July. When you book use coupon code ACTLOCALLYWACO20.
Whether through massage or the hug of a dear friend, make sure you get your vitamin T this summer.
Dr. Emma Wood is a licensed clinical psychologist, public speaker, trainer, consultant and blogger in Waco. You can see more of her work and get more information about the services she provides at www.dremmajwood.com
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