Much has been said about social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and many people have tried to stay connected to family and friends online with video chats and virtual hangouts. But what about intimacy? What about dating? How are we supposed to physically interact with others with masks and social distancing rules? This lack of physical contact can lead to the condition called touch starvation. Many people are suffering from touch starvation in the time of COVID-19 and how is it impacting our mental health?
What Is Touch Starvation?
First, let’s talk about what touch starvation is. When you have a lack of physical touching and physical support you may suffer from touch starvation. That doesn’t necessarily mean physical intimacy but think about how good it feels when a friend or family member hugs you. If you’re having a bad day, sometimes that’s all it takes to feel like you’re supported and feel like you can make it through the situation. So what happens when we’re deprived of those physical experiences? Hint: it isn’t good for our mental health. Touch starvation can happen at any time but it is particularly problematic right now when we have months and months of self-quarantine and social distancing.
How Does It Affect Your Mental Health?
We know how good a hug can feel or when someone puts their arms around you in a romantic relationship. However, there are physical responses as well. Some research suggests that touch can activate the orbitofrontal cortex which is responsible for reward and emotion regulation but also controls depression. When there is a lack of touch and stimulation, it can lead to depression on an emotional level.
The orbitofrontal cortex also creates a stress hormone called cortisol. Skin also transmits the hormone oxytocin through touch and it’s known as the “love hormone.” If you aren’t getting enough tactile stimulation, the extra stress you’re feeling can activate that hormone. It can have physical effects such as elevating your heart rate, respiration, and even blood pressure when you are stressed.
A lack of touch can also trigger a negative response in your sleep patterns. You may suffer from insomnia or other sleep disturbances. The bottom line is any time you have increased stress and depression, you become more susceptible to more conventional medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or even a heart attack. Given that we’re fighting a pandemic, increased stress can weaken your immune system for any illness.
What Can You Do?
Have you wondered about the recent trend of people using weighted blankets when they sleep? These blankets have extra weight added to them and one of the reported benefits is that they can replace or mimic human touch in a similar way to a hug. Using weighted blankets can be one way to help replace the human touch you’re missing during the pandemic and social distancing.
Have you ever tried using a body pillow? Some people feel they sleep more comfortably when they’re surrounded by pillows, not only giving them physical support but creating a sensation of hugging. Even hugging inanimate objects, like hugging a pillow, can partially replace the physical sensation of human touch.
Pet therapy can be an important component to battling the extra anxiety produced by social distancing. Petting and hugging a pet provides tactile stimulation, whether it’s a cat or dog. Cats can rub against your leg and dogs may like to sit in your lap. If you have a dog they can help you in another way by providing an excuse to get outdoors and exercise while you walk the dog. Even though it doesn’t replace the human touch, engaging with animals can still be a positive way to reduce stress. Exercising helps you reduce stress and fight off those feelings of depression. Another idea is making sure you stay in touch with family members through video calls which also reduces stress if you can’t reach out and hug them.
To battle that lack of touch there are a few other things you can do. The first is self-massage, such as massaging your neck or perhaps trying one of those rolling massagers you can use on your feet or back. You can also try a special kind of video called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR.) The sounds in the video stimulate the same response as you get when someone touches you and can help replace those feelings of touch starvation.
We have been suffering from varying degrees of isolation, quarantine, and social distancing depending on what country you live in since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This disease has wreaked havoc and ended many lives but it’s also taken a psychological toll. After so many months without any or only minimal human contact, the human population is worn down, stressed about the economy, depressed from isolation, and generally a mess while we struggle to maintain our mental health. Touch starvation has become a pandemic in its own right. To try to maintain your mental health, exercise some basic stress reduction along with techniques like hugging a pillow or using weighted blankets to mimic the feel of a hug. If you’re still having problems with stress and depression, Everlast Recovery Center can help. We treat mental illness as well as substance abuse disorder and the two often coexist. At our Riverside, California facility you can start healing mentally and physically. Through therapy and holistic wellness, we teach you the skills to survive in an ever-changing world. Call us today and let us help you get through this pandemic and any other issues you may have. Call us today and learn how we can help at 866-DETOX-25, (866-338-6925).