Did you know that positive physical touch is necessary for human survival? Crazy eh? The other day I popped a little question up on Facebook to ask if you could do anything today, what would that be. 74% responded with seeing friends and family and of that 74%, 41% specified seeing friends and family and hugging them. We need touch.
What is the first thing that happens when we are born? We are placed immediately on our mother’s skin. Skin to skin. Touch makes us feel better. It releases oxytocin (a pleasure hormone) and decreases cortisol (a stress hormone). Why is it that for so many of us (and I can’t say it’s always the case for me initially – but it is eventually) do we like a hug when we’re feeling sad, stressed or angry? It’s because it helps. Why is it that so many of us are craving hugs? It’s because it makes us feel better.
We can go as far as to say that positive, caring touch enables us to feel secure in ourselves. Our prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking, decision making and higher-order processing. This is developing right into our 20s. There are rapid points of development in the very early years and then a huge pruning process during the teenage years (one of the reasons teenagers find it so hard to be rational – so let’s give them a bit of a break!). In an experiment, it was shown that the growth and development of the prefrontal cortex is inhibited by isolation. Connections, and specifically, touch, are fundamental in healthy brain development.
So, what can we do during this time when it is so hard to hug one another? What can we do in an age where even seeing our dearest family members is strongly advised against? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the brain is hugely adaptable. New pathways can be easily formed and old ones can fade away. This is a season of life quite unlike any other. Hugs will return. Our brain won’t forget them and when they return they will continue to release that happy hormone. That is part of our make-up. It won’t change. In the meantime, let’s keep connecting, keep encouraging in whatever way we can. There are five key ways to show love and touch is only one of them…send a gift, share some words of affirmation, do an act of service for someone you care about. Time is another tricky one, but we can be creative on the screen; play a game, share a meal. Whatever happens, let us not give up on each other. I challenge you this week to reach out to someone you love, but can’t see now and creatively hug them. I challenge you also not to miss those who are nearest to us (and perhaps driving us round the bend) and see their need to be hugged too.
I shall leave you today with a link to an interesting TED Talk about touch. Please be encouraged that it is natural to be feeling as we are because we are missing out on a fundamental need. However, please also be encouraged that one day, this will be restored. Keep going gang.