What does it mean to be touch deprived?

Humans are wired to be touched from the day we are born until the time we die. We all have a need for physical contact. Touch deprivation or skin hunger occurs when a person undergoes little to no touch from another living things.

Is this a real thing?

The condition is more common in countries that are less touchy. Throw a global pandemic into the picture and we are more or less all affected. France is one of the most touchy-feely places in the world, while the United States is one of the least touchy nations. Maybe this is due to a rise in technology use, a worry of touching seen as inappropriate, or plain cultural factors, no one is certain. Studies found that cutting out regular human touch can have some significant and long-lasting effects.

Does it only relate to sensual touch?

Certainly not! Any and all positive touch is regarded to be valuable. Missing out on workplace handshakes, friendly hugs or pats on the back can produce feelings of touch starvation. Naturally it does link to sensual touching too such as holding hands, stroking backs and rubbing foot. Scientists found that nerve endings called C-tactile afferents, live to recognize any formation of gentle touch.

As a matter of fact, according to a 2017 study, the ideal touching speed is between 3 and 5 centimetres per second then the body releases oxytocin the “love hormone”.

Why is touch crucial? 

Skin contact is necessary for our mental, emotional and physical health. When you feel under pressure, the body sets free the stress hormone cortisol. One major effect touch can do is reduce such stress, allowing the immune system to function the way it should. Touch can also reduce the heart rate and blood pressure. It stimulates pressure receptors that carry signals to the vagus nerve. This nerve ties the brain to the rest of the body. It utilizes the signals to slow the speed of the nervous system.                                                                   

In childhood and infancy, touch is crucial for bonding and building good relationships by stimulating passageways for oxytocin, the natural antidepressant serotonin and the joy chemical dopamine. Last but not least it tackles loneliness. Even the tender touch from a complete stranger has shown to lower feelings of social isolation.

How do you know if you are touch deprived?

There is no absolute way to know, but you may feel profoundly lonely or needy of affection.

These signs may be blend with:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low relationship satisfaction
  • Insomnia
  • Avoiding secure attachments

Subconsciously you may do activities to simulate touch, e.g. taking long, hot showers or baths, cuddling up in blankets or stroking a pet.

What if you don’t like being touched? Can you still be touch starved? Some people connect touch with trust. If they don’t trust an individual, they dislike that person to touch them despite the fact that they long for the benefits of a hug or handshake. People disliking touch are often traumatised, have neurodiversity and those who identify as asexual.

Childhood experiences can also play a big factor. In 2012, a study found that people whose parents were regular huggers were more probable to hug people in adulthood. The luck of frequent positive touch as a youngster may affect the development of the vagus nerve and oxytocin system, harming intimacy and social abilities. Although this may not be correct for everyone.

What can you do?

Some ideas to welcome more affection into your life:

  • Try out a shiatsu or massage. Whether you ask a loved one or visit a professional, body therapies are a way to relax and enjoy the comfort of another person’s touch.
  • Spend quality time with animals. Pets are the ideal soothing mechanism and often all too happy to cuddle.
  • Learn to dance. Dances like tango have skin-to-skin contact. It will give you touch and you’ll pick up a new skill.

For the people who are close to you

  • Allow them plenty of positive touch. A range from gentle strokes to full-on cuddling a few times a day.
  • Stay away from associating touch with negativity. Don’t push or pinch or do anything that takes away the positive vibes of physical contact.
  • As often as possible allow your children to be close to you. Let your child sit on your lap or gently massaging your baby may prompt them to give similar later in life.

The bottom line

If you’re feeling you don’t receive enough touch, you haven’t sealed your fate. There are many ways to overcome the condition and encourage positive, affectionate touch in those around you.

Particularly now in our current situation it seems to be a challenge. Use touch whenever appropriate and safe. Make sure other people are pleased before going ahead. Don’t forget the essence of Shiatsu is touch and Shiatsu is the art of touch.

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