There is a growing need in our society for touch. With lockdowns and social distancing, people worldwide are more physically isolated than ever before.
Even before Covid-19, North American culture was not especially touchy. Outside of family, friends, or sexual partners, most North Americans rarely have physical contact beyond a handshake or an occasional hug.
Culturally, most of us don’t realize how large a role touching plays in our general state of well-being. But studies suggest that physical touch is a human need that can contribute directly to emotional and physical health.
Touch starvation is a real thing. It’s a psychological phenomenon when people go for prolonged periods with little to no physical contact with others.
But, because it often appears as feelings of loneliness, sadness and isolation, people who suffer from touch starvation don’t always realize that what they lack is physical contact. This misunderstanding stems from the fact that most people aren’t aware of how vital physical connection is to our health, development and growth.
According to a study at Stanford, loving contact between mothers and infants improved babies’ sleep patterns, contributed to better digestion, reduced restlessness in babies, and led to fewer instances of postpartum depression in mothers.
Not only this, but several studies at the beginning of the 20th century showed that babies who were not shown physical affection developed more slowly. One study investigating the mortality rates in orphanages found that babies provided with everything they needed to survive except touch did not grow as quickly as infants who received loving physical contact. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this article.
These studies suggest that physical touch is fundamental to our growth as infants, and some believe that this is because it communicates connection.
We don’t usually think of touch as a form of communication, but this is exactly what it is. Touch is our very first form of communication.
As infants, it was how we knew our mothers. It was how we differentiated comfort from pain. Without verbal language, touch was how we received our first messages from the world. And as we grow older, it is constantly informing us.
Scientifically, such a thing is difficult to prove, but we can all feel the message of connection that physical contact communicates. A pat on the back from a friend, a loving hug from a sibling, holding the hand of a sick family member, these tactile messages show support, safety, and connection beyond words.
Perhaps it’s this very message that makes touching so crucial to the development of new babies. I mean, what message could be more critical to a newborn than you are not alone? Maybe touch is so powerful because even after childhood, it reminds us that we are not alone.
Massage therapy—a remedy to touch starvation
Before lockdown, many who felt the need for physical contact went to massage therapists to receive the caring, non-judgmental touch they needed.
Unfortunately, this touch was easily accessible during the lockdown periods, making isolation even worse for many.
However, with reduced restrictions and massage once again available, skilled and compassionate massage therapists are more sought after than ever. People need a professional and caring atmosphere where they know they will receive therapeutic touch in a respectful way. Massage therapists can provide this service and help remedy touch starvation.
Beyond touch—the power of skillful hands.
More than simply providing touch, massage therapists do so with great skill, which translates to more profound therapeutic benefits. As massage therapists improve their technique and develop their sensitivity, they become better at communicating acceptance and understanding through their hands.
In a world undergoing a new level of physical isolation, the demand for skillful, therapeutic touch is growing. Because not everyone has relationships that allow for touch, the need for well-trained massage therapists has never been greater.