How to survive when touch isn’t an option

  • Post category:News

Can you remember the last handshake you gave? What about the last hug or high five?

In these times when you’re responsibly social distancing, the frequency of physical contact with others has lessened. As a result, mental health professionals are concerned about the impact “touch deprivation” has on our state of mind. Though it’s not the only factor in depression or anxiety, lack of routine physical touch can be a contributor.

“Touch is integral to our development,” says Amy Parks, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the Pediatrics Department at UCSF Fresno. She refers to ‘kangaroo care’, or the laying of an infant on the mother’s chest, as “starting our lives with touch.”

Human touch is something we all yearn for — at every age — and that physical affection can help calm the nerves. Being deprived of physical contact for long periods of time may cause us to suffer from anxiety and depression.

We’re looking for solutions any way we can. Many are turning to blankets with beads or other weights sewn into them to simulate pressure that can unleash feel-good hormones and may reduce stress-induced cortisol. One weighted blanket company reported a doubling of sales starting in April 2020, just after COVID-19 started hitting the U.S. hardest.

A brief reminder: Why we aren’t touching

COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Therefore, we’re all trying to keep six feet of distance between us and others to prevent the spread of the disease.

Respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, singing, talking or breathing expose you to infection when in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Employ your five senses

Parks points us toward the five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) for a remedy to touch deprivation. Identify something from each sense that’s calming, she says. Use these if you start to feel depressed or anxious.

“After some practice,” Parks says, “just thinking of that item or seeing it will calm you.”

What works is different for everyone. The smell of coffee might soothe you but not your spouse, so work to find what works best for your individual preferences.

Ways to help satisfy your need for touch through the senses

  1. Look for soundscapes you find relaxing from free apps or websites.

  2. Caress different textures such as furry, silky and smooth surfaces.

  3. Learn about aromatherapy and the benefits of different scents.

  4. Take time to savor the tastes of your meals, rather than inhaling them while distracted by the TV or at the desk.

  5. Virtually see the people in your life. Says Parks, “In my meetings I try to have the camera on.”

What about my “bubble”?

Your bubble is the small group you’ve allowed into your home from another, and have together agreed to practice COVID-safe measures such as masking and social distancing when out of the home. Experiencing touch with those in your household bubble or pod may also help, but it comes with risks. Your family or friends may still be exposed to COVID-19 while running errands or going about their daily business and therefore can still bring the disease into the bubble. 

Identify your supportive relationships

Finally, Parks encourages identifying the supportive relationships in our lives. These may or may not represent people in our bubble. It might include your pets. Once you’ve identified those individuals, make an effort to spend safe and high-quality time with them, such as meals or “no electronics” time, in order to connect (virtually if they’re not in your bubble). Make the time to maintain a healthy support system for yourself.

“And remember,” Parks finishes, “this will not be our forever. This is temporary.” That’s a saying she encourages people to post somewhere to stay positive until the day hugs don’t carry their current danger.