Touch is a sense we probably used to take for granted, but since covid, we may have realised how important it is. From all the family and friends we long to hug, to simply being tactile with people, whether it’s sitting next to them or touching on the arm while chatting away.
Research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding and health in the following ways:
Pain - Touching someone you love can reduce physical pain. Security - When we’re touched in a comfortable way, our neurological senses are ignited through the skin, and our brain gets the emotional response that we’re feeling safe, secure and good. Calm - If you’ve had an overwhelming day, a good hug can do wonders to help you relax. It reduces cortisol and increases dopamine, seratonin and oxytocin. Which leads onto…. Health - When you’re feeling reassured with touch, your blood pressure and pulse decrease as you are calming your body, which puts less stress on your heart. These physical benefits of hugging and touch can lead to a healthier, longer life. Every time you lower your cortisol, this has an impact on your immune system so you’re increasing your ability to fight disease.
However, it is crucial to always remember that hugs and touch must be agreed to by both parties. Touching someone who doesn’t want to be, is extremely disrespectful and can cause physical or mental damage. Some people aren’t tactile, some are very private, and some have issues with touch. Forcing hugs is a huge no-no in my eyes, especially with children. It’s totally wrong to say they should hug someone to say hello, goodbye or thank you. Their body is theirs and they can choose. Just as your body is yours and you make your own choices. For all these reasons, when teaching baby massage, I encourage parent to "ask permission" to get into the habit of this respect and communication with their child.
There are some people who prefer animal hugs to human hugs and these can be just as beneficial. Did you know? Interacting warmly with your dog for 30 minutes can increase oxytocin levels (the love hormone) by 300% (and by 130% in your dog). Our cortisol levels (stress hormones) can also decrease when stroking a pet (unless you don’t like animals of course). And the pet’s cortisol levels also decrease when being stroked or cuddled.