How to deal with physical touch during self-isolation?

Love, vastu and romance. How to deal with physical touch during quarantine? Photo source: DNA India
Love, vastu and romance. How to deal with physical touch during quarantine? Photo source: DNA India
8 Min Read

Rehana Rahman, Daily US Times: Physical touch is one of the more difficult parts during self-isolation. An introductory handshake with a stranger is no longer a possibility.

A hug from a best friend feels very far off. To put it simply, social distancing, while vitally important, just kind of sucks. We have been separated from our friends and family. We can no longer see our classmates or coworkers face to face.

In many places, the weather is starting to warm up, which typically encourages outdoor gatherings. Suddenly, all of the in-person social interaction we once took for granted has vanished. As a result, all of us — even those quarantined with someone is experiencing a lack of physical touch, which can have negative effects on emotional and mental health.

Forced to stay in their homes, many people right now find themselves completely isolated. Understandably, anxiety has been settling in. Due to health concerns, necessary trips to the grocery store can feel scary.

Read: 10 Best Netflix Movies to Watch During COVID-19 Quarantine

Getting the mail feels unsanitary, and a simple cough or sneeze from a stranger can be cause for concern. You may feel very impatient to reach a future where this is all over, but in order to deal with these difficult circumstances, consider homing in on your memories of the past. Source: Architectural digest

For many, touch has become the rarest quarantine provision, We’re lucky to be alive, say those craving physical contact, but we don’t feel so human without it.

“We’re mammals — we’re built to touch,” says Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute. “It’s absolutely essential, and we will get back to it.”

Yes, the lack of physical touch due to social distancing protocols is starting to take its toll on many of us. And there’s a scientific reason for it.

Why physical touch is important?

Physical touch is vital for well-being. If you are distancing with people who are close to you and healthy, do not forget the positive impact of a gentle hug, or holding someone’s hand. Safe, mutually consenting physical touch leads to the release of Oxytocin.

Sometimes called the “love hormone,” Oxytocin helps regulate your fight or flight system and calms your body in times of stress.

This coronavirus crisis may not end soon. Things may get worse. As people hunker down, the negative side effects of social distancing and isolation will shift and evolve. What feels manageable today may not feel manageable tomorrow.

Read: Stay at home: 11 things you should do while you’re in self-quarantine

Psychologists say we are concerned that the lack of social connections, increased stress, disruptions, and losses of livelihoods and routines will tip some people toward depression. We are concerned about increased family conflict as people are forced to navigate unusual amounts of time together, many in confined spaces.

When we engage in hugs, cuddles and other forms of affection, our bodies release the feel-good hormones Oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, which help to regulate mood and make us feel calmer and more relaxed during these challenging times.

Being touched by another living being can also help boost our immune system, which is kind of important during a pandemic. Regular affection can also help lower blood pressure and heart rate according to this study.

Symptoms of physical touch starvation

If you haven’t had physical contact for the past few weeks and you are starting to feel depressed, stressed, anxious, and you’re having difficulty sleeping, you might be suffering from touch hunger or starvation.

How to deal with physical touch?

If you live alone, you will likely have to wait until the social distancing protocols are lifted before you can experience a hug, handshake or kiss again. Thankfully, in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to get the cuddle-like experiences you crave.

Spend time with a pet

There is currently no evidence that domestic animals such as dogs and cats can get COVID-19, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. So, go ahead and offer to take care of a friend or family member’s pet for a few days, and get as many pet cuddles as you can in the process!

Just be sure to disinfect their toys, food and water bowls and accessories, and stay six feet away from their owner when meeting up for the pet pass over.

Practice self-massage

Giving yourself a daily ayurvedic massage is a wonderful way to satisfy your need for physical touch. This massage technique called Abhyanga, outlined on spiritual guru Deepak Chopra’s website, takes 15 to 20 minutes and uses sesame oil, coconut, and almond oil, depending on your dosha, or ayurvedic mind-body type.

Along with imparting a sense of calm, practiced daily, this massage can help increase circulation, improve sleep and enhance circulation.

Pamper Yourself

Giving yourself a manicure and a pedicure (complete with a hand and foot massage) can mimic the effect of skin contact with another living creature.

Embrace cosy objects and decor

Whether it’s a faux fur throw pillow on your couch, a silk pillowcase, a silky blouse or even a stuffed animal, surrounding yourself with objects that feel good against your skin can help tide you over until hugs with humans are allowed again.

Have a long bubble bath or shower

Physical warmth can increase feelings of comfort and security, so taking a long, luxurious warm bath or shower, (preferably with some calming essential oils such as lavender) can help replace the social warmth we are missing in our lives right now.

Recall your nice memories

According to Dr. Sarvenaz Sepehri, a clinical psychologist based in California, we may long for physical touch because we associate it with fond memories. She recommends attempting to replicate this positive feeling by focusing on our other senses.

“Try getting back in touch with a memory that travels you back to a time when you felt hopeful and connected to others,” she says. “Draw it out in your mind: Where were you? Who was with you? What was the scene like—colors, scents, textures?

What were you feeling at the time? How are you feeling now that you’re imagining it?” This is a handy technique because it can be practiced anytime, anywhere. If coronavirus COVID-19 has you feeling lonely or stressed out, try this exercise for a relaxing moment of peace.

Remember to breathe

At this moment, with all the stress and anxiety, many people feel overwhelmed and disconnected. But you’re still here and those around you are in this chaos with you, too.

Be generous

The practical side of the idea of expanding your identities is an encouragement to be generous, broadly speaking. Giving to others in times of need not only helps the recipient, but it enhances the giver’s well-being, too.

If you feel compelled to go to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper, consider checking in with people you know who are more vulnerable and see what they might need. Give them some of that toilet paper.

Help others around you, including neighbors you may not know well, people with whom you don’t usually feel a sense of kinship and people experiencing homelessness. Doing so combats the impulse to build walls.

Is there any alternative to physical touch?

Of course, nothing can fully replace actual physical touch. “Touch is our first language and one of our core needs. The touch of a safe, trusted loved one can alleviate anxiety and promote a sense of well-being without doing anything else,” says Dr. Jon Reeves, a clinical psychologist based in Washington.

“Though nothing changes and nothing is ‘fixed,’ when appropriately touched we tend to feel much better.” Physical touch is incredibly intimate and specific, but we can try to approximate it through comforting objects and activities.

“Touch often feels best from someone we know and love—it is not just the physical touch, but the relationship and memories of that person that help us feel better,” he says. Having a stuffed animal or old birthday card nearby could be a helpful, simple method of leveling yourself.

Flexibility is adaptive. Building a foundation of healthy coping, maintaining awareness of the side effects of our necessary societal changes, and staying connected to our values and each other is imperative. Human beings have a great capacity for empathy and caring in times of suffering. Maintaining social distance doesn’t need to change that.


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