Re-gaining our Sense of Touch
Safe, physical, human touch is a basic human need. Hugs, handshakes, fist pumps, pats on the back, hands on the shoulder – all of it – help us feel close, connected, wanted, welcomed, reassured, acknowledged, and loved. It has positive benefits on our physical, social, and mental health. However, due to the coronavirus and the public fears it’s created, touching others is taboo.
How can we feel connected to others without touching them? How can we maintain positive mental health while still remaining safe during the pandemic? Here are some ideas:
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while accepting one’s senses, bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Practicing mindfulness can help us feel relaxed and focused, decrease our levels of stress, anxiety, and isolation, while also improving our brain functioning, blood pressure, heart rate, and immunity, along with other physical and mental health benefits.
All of the ideas presented in this blog relate to the practice of mindful touch; focusing on, acknowledging, and accepting our tactile sensations.
Exploring Our Sense of Touch
There are no rules for touching people within our household unless they are sick or in self-isolation. If you live with others who you love and trust, take advantage of touch. If you live with pets or animals and it’s safe to touch them, then pet, hug, and cuddle with them. Petting releases relaxation neurotransmitters including endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, and reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Exploring our tactile sensations can help us feel calm, comfortable, safe, and warm. There are plenty of fabrics that can produce unique tactile sensations, including silk, fleece, wool, leather, cotton, nylon, cashmere, velvet, and others. Consider the different sensations you feel from touching different plants or flowers inside or outside your home, such as bamboo, succulents, different grasses, dandelions, flower pedals, and other flora. Feeling how silky, smooth, rough, scratchy, bumpy, wet, and dry different living and non-living objects are is a grounding activity that helps us feel connected even though it does not involve other people.
Something that we can all do is self-touch. This includes, playing with our hair, stroking our arm lightly, holding our hands over our heart, lightly tracing our veins or hairs on our arms, and others. An effective stress reduction technique is the butterfly hug. Hug yourself so that your hands are embracing your arms or shoulders on the opposite sides of your body. While your hands are resting there, tap them lightly against your arms or shoulders, one at a time, as if your hands are butterfly wings flapping.
Tuning into our bodily sensations can help us notice any tension or unpleasant sensations in different parts of our body, such as our back, stomach, chest, neck, or temples. By placing our hand gently over that body part, closing our eyes, focusing on the body part and our breathing, we can be mindful of the tension. By focusing on the sensations, we begin to accept our pain. By accepting our pain, our pain feels more manageable.
You can experience the benefits of massage on yourself, by yourself. To do this, simply notice where you have tension in your body, apply a bit of pressure with your fingers, thumbs, or palm, then release. Notice how relaxed your body part feels. You could also do a full or partial self-massage and you could use tools to assist the process, including lotions or oils, baby powder, pillows, or tennis balls. You could also Google or YouTube step-by-step self-massage guides; just make sure that you are following websites or videos published by registered massage therapists.
Practicing Positive Mental health
Touch deprivation can have negative impacts on our mental health, including symptoms related to anxiety and depression. During this pandemic, it is important to check in with your mental health. Take some deep breaths and ask yourself how you are feeling about your life, your relationships, your family, your career, your self-care, your health, right now. Avoid any temptation to judge, or place blame and just focus on being aware of whatever thoughts come to mind. Connect with at least one person who you trust, either face to face or through phone, text, email, or video chat, and talk about your concerns.
As a species, we are hard-wired for social connection. Connect with your social supports. Even if you aren’t talking about concerns, it will feel good just to connect with them. Another therapeutic tool is to journal. Write down your thoughts, uncensored, onto paper, your computer, or device. This can help you feel a sense of relief and separate yourself from your thoughts so that you can examine them more closely and see how they may be irrational or inaccurate. Plan what you can do to make positive small steps towards addressing or improving the areas of your life that you’re concerned about.
Reaching out for help
There are professionals who can provide assistance with touch deprivation. These may include massage therapists, acupuncture, or other specialists who are now providing direct services during the pandemic with safety procedures. Mental health professionals, including Registered Psychologists, Social Workers, and Canadian Certified Counsellors and Psychotherapists, are specialists with extensive education, knowledge, and training in assessing mental health related problems and providing support through talk therapy.
There are various mental health professionals within Lethbridge and area, and many are providing different options for access, including face-to-face and/or telehealth opportunities during the pandemic. At Associates Counselling Services, we are providing both in-person and telehealth options. If you would like to get set up or ask questions, please call (403) 381-6000 or visit https://talkinghelps.ca/
Brad Moser, Registered Psychologist
Brad Moser has over 12 years of experience providing therapy for children and teens, adults, couples, and families. His areas of practice include anger, anxiety, bereavement, childhood and family of origin concerns, depression, identity concerns, marital/relationship distress, men’s and dad’s issues, parenting, self-esteem, separation/divorce, stress, and suicidal ideation. Brad is accepting new clients and is providing a sliding scale for those who cannot afford the normal rate.
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