By Cord Prettyman
“I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug or just a friendly pat on the back.”
- Maya Angelou
Or do they?
The combination of the distance social media puts between humans and real-time interactions, the gray area of the “Me Too” movement and the scrutiny of a hyper-sensitive politically correct culture has created a dynamic in America in which people hesitate to communicate in one of humanity’s most basic forms of communication: touch.
Gary Brown, Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, said, “Touch is essential for babies’ development for their physical, emotional and eventually social health. In fact, touch is the first of the five senses to develop. The need for positive touch, the connection and reassurance it can bring is literally in our DNA.”
A photo on Brown’s website features a newborn grasping a parent’s finger without being taught to do so; Brown said the baby just naturally wanted the connection through physical touch.
But what about adults? Is the need for touch something we get over as we age? Scientific studies have shown that touch can be decoded as a form of nonverbal communication across a wide diversity of cultures and countries. Touch can communicate tenderness, compassion, anger, love, gratitude, happiness and fear, within seconds. It can also be very influential. Research has demonstrated that individuals who have been touched are more likely to participate in mall interviews, leave bigger tips and be more amenable to social interaction. The warm hug and kiss on the cheek as a greeting from someone close to you can result in positive emotions and memories. The great thing is the benefits go both ways — the person giving the hug has a similar physiological reaction.
According to a Guardian article, hugs not only help foster comfort and positive emotions, they also protect against the harmful effects of stress. Studies have shown that a hug from a close friend produces the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin (the “love” hormone) in the brain. All of these naturally occurring hormones help boost the immune system and ward off illness. One study looked at the impact of hugs during the cold season. The 404 participants were first asked how often they hug someone. Then, they were brought into contact with a common cold virus. In the quarantine that followed, it was observed how many showed cold symptoms. The findings revealed that those who received hugs on a regular basis, experienced fewer cold symptoms.
So, what counts as quality touching for partners? According to Brown, holding hands, backrubs, nuzzling, hugs, foot massages, stroking your partner’s hair, side of face or ears, and cuddling —more on cuddling in a minute. He recommends that you hug your partner when she or he comes home; when in a low-level disagreement sit facing each other and hold hands; and/or bury your head in their shoulder. For more advice, Google Brown, along with “sensate focus.”
As for those without partners, touch is no less important. Check with your friends to see who is comfortable with hugging, get a massage or better yet, contact the Teller County Regional Animal Shelter or Adoptable Animal Rescue Force and adopt a pet. They’re great for snuggling.
Now back to cuddling. Professional cuddling has become a nationwide business. The Washington Post reported on this in an April 2018 story, sharing how this business has grown and even profiling a professional cuddling company, Cuddle Up To Me. Learn more at cuddleuptome.com.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Canadian poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood: “Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last and it always tells the truth.”