The need for touch in our lives is one of our most basic, primal needs.  Many have heard stories of the challenges many children face in orphanages where they did not experience regular caring touch from a caregiver.  It is known that the mortality rate amongst infants who do not receive touch is high and those who survive can experience more difficulties reaching developmental milestones.  Touch helps regulate a baby’s heart rate and breathing, while boosting well-being overall. Research has shown that when humans lack touch in their daily lives, there is an increased likelihood of negative health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and other poor immunity.

There are various research studies that show the implications of lack of touch. A famous study by Harlow in the 1970s demonstrated that baby monkeys would rather receive touch than food from a mother, breaking down the myth that we need food over touch to survive. 

With touch our nervous systems can regulate and our stress levels decrease. There is so much potential here to heal trauma especially for those who have been isolated socially or have experienced not-so-great life events.  Our immune systems get a boost when we receive touch. A parent’s hugging a sick child may do more than we think!

Of course, the concept of touch may bring up some difficult memories for some, and so it is vital that we approach touch with consent and boundaries. Find people that add to your feelings of safety and if the touch crosses your boundaries, it is your right to say ‘Stop. Communicating our needs is just as important as having them filled.

So how can you begin to receive more touch in your life? Here are some ideas:

1. Get a massage or treat yourself to some other form of body work, such as Reiki, an alternative holistic practice.  You can see a professional massage therapist to work out any tension in the body or you can ask a friend or partner to give you a gentle shoulder massage.  You can also give yourself this gift by massaging your body.  Other modalities such as Reiki, involve positioning hands-on or off the body to regulate the nervous system and clear stagnant energy. This is a great alternative as some people do not want to be physically touched which happens in massage.  You can learn Reiki with a teacher or find videos online that guide you on how to do self treatments.

2. Initiate non-sexual touch with family or friends. We are surrounded by loved ones all the time, yet can go days without any touch from those closest to us. You can offer to give a mini shoulder massage or cuddle on the couch. Remember to remain in a place of consent and communicate the boundaries with others so everyone is on the same page. Cuddle parties exist for a reason!

3. Give a hug. If a back rub is too close for contact, then perhaps a simple hug will do the trick.  Sometimes all a person needs is a hug or a gentle touch on the hand to know that they are loved, and everything is going to be okay.  When we initiate touch, it is not only healing for ourselves but for others too. Allowing yourself to embrace another (with permission of course) can bring many benefits. One suggestion here is to allow yourself to prolong the length of time you hug another person. Invite them to experiment with you and see if you can hold the hug for 30 seconds and see what shifts internally. You may notice that your heart begins to open more. All from the simple act of hugging.

A final note here around consent and boundaries. As mentioned before, many people have various experiences around their personal boundaries and so maintaining a sense of agency is needed to ensure safe touch. Asking permission and setting clear boundaries on what is allowed will ensure safety of all. Communicate clearly and remember you can stop at any time if need be. If we can begin to flip the switch on healthy touch, the more wellness and positive experiences we will see in our communities.

Written by Fola Veritas

Registered Psych Nurse  & Shamanic Practitioner