What Ever Happened to Touch?

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By Myrna Conrad

Covid 19 has changed so much of our world and how it functions. But, one of the most devastating changes has been how it has so drastically impacted human-to-human interaction.

It seems that face-to-face interaction, close connection and contact had already started to diminish even before Covid. So, many people were already using smart devices, emails or social media to communicate, rather than face-to-face interaction.

From a warm handshake, to a loving hug, to a congratulatory pat on the back, people have developed a variety of means of communication and emotional expression through physical contact. But, in this tech-saturated world, appropriate, non-sexual touch is in danger of becoming rare. Despite some of the benefits of technology, it is vital to preserve human touch for people to be able to truly thrive.

There have been many studies done on the importance of human touch. The science of touch and how it affects people began to gather more interest in the mid-1990s, when two scientists traveled to Romania to examine the sensory deprivation of children in understaffed orphanages. These touch-deprived children had much lower cortisol and lower growth development levels compared to other children in their age group. Many other studies have found a correlation between touch and healthy development as well as the ability to fight diseases.

Tiffany Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, has studied touch for over four decades. When asked what has been the most surprising findings from her research, she said, “We found that massage actually increases natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are the front lines of the immune system. They kill viral cells and bacteria cells.”

When researching for this article, I found another study that was done to test the positive effects of hugging. A cold germ was injected into a study group and those who had more hugs had a better immune response to the cold virus than those who were isolated.
From the time we are in the womb through our elderly years, appropriate touch plays a very important role in our development as well as our physical and mental well-being.
This last year, people have been continuously warned against close contact and touch.
Social distancing has become a common word. People have been isolated and indoctrinated with fear of contact. We’ve been told that we must wear a mask; that we must stay six feet apart. Hardly anyone greets with a hand shake or hug any more. I am a hugger and I really miss it. I am sorry, but fist bumps or elbow bumps just don’t work the same for me!
There are a large number of people in our society that live alone. This last year of isolation has kept them from much of their normal means of interaction. People were not created to live in isolation. At the very beginning of God’s Word in Genesis 2:18, we read, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.” Medical News Today reported on the results of a study associating lack of human contact or living alone as a contributing factor to mood disorders, anxiety and depression.

If appropriate touch is so important to both a person’s physical and mental well-being, then what will be the long-term effects of this new norm of social distancing? We already see many people experiencing depression, mental health issues and increased suicides among all ages. I believe, if all of the research on the importance of touch is accurate, then we will see more physical repercussions from this period of social distancing also. In fact, could we have prolonged the period of physical recovery and immunity by the mandate of social distancing and isolation?

I in no way want to advocate behavior that is unwise or unsafe, nor do I mean to treat lightly or demean the real fear and devastating effects of this virus. However, I believe we need to start thinking more about how we can begin to interact with others again in such a way that incorporates the important element of touch. We need to reach out to the elderly, to the lonely and to the isolated and make sure they are safely experiencing the love and interaction needed with others.

Be Aware:
– Be aware of your fears concerning close contact with others.
– Think about how you are interacting with others after this year of isolation.
– Understand your own, as well as others’, need for human contact.
– Be alert for those who might need help with depression or fear.

Be Intentional:
– Make sure those in your family are feeling loved and cared for.
– Find ways to start having more contact with others.
– If you feel safe, start giving more hugs.
– Get out more, interact more and show more appropriate affection.
– Let faith replace fear and interaction replace isolation!