Soothing touch is essential for our mental, physical, emotional and relational health. Research has shown without regular touch, babies stop growing and are more likely to die. Cuddles and touch release all sorts of wonderful hormones and chemicals into our brains and bodies that make us feel good, help us bond and calms us when feeling stressed.
Many people are having to live in social isolation currently without the touch of another. Ironically, this is to protect their health, yet the the lack of soothing, regulating touch may actually further reduce immunity at a time when immunity is already compromised by increased threat and stress. My mum is one of those in the highly vulnerable group and currently shielding alone in isolation.
However, there are ways to stimulate those soothing and protective hormones and chemicals when touch is not possible during isolation:
Use video calls to have a grandparent read to a child, listen to music together, share a walk, remenisce about old stories or do something silly together. I have been having regular video calls with my mum to speak about her early life as research for a book – has definitely led to some laughs together!
Flowers, favourite food parcel, a cosy blanket or something with a personal and shared meaning are great. Messages, cards and letters that come from the heart will help the person feel connected. My mum was moved by a random message from my daughter to say she missed her. A food parcel that took over a week to arrive gave her something to look forward to and made her feel cared for.
Talk about what you will do together when this is all over. Put in as much detail as possible, make it really vivid – who will be there, where will it be, what will the smells and food be? Our brain is easily fooled – vivid descriptions will fire up the same neural pathways and get those chemical and hormones going. My mum has planned her first meeting with my brother and I – she was very clear on where we will do it, what we will do and what we will discuss.
A warm bath or shower or being wrapped in a cosy blanket can give the body a similar sensory experience as physical touch. For my mum this is being wrapped tightly in her duvet at night.
Cuddling a pet can do the job just as well as another human. I so wish I could ship my dog over to my mum right now. For now, she has to make do with watching my dog on video calls and loves to see his recognition when she speaks.