The Power of Touch
I have spent the last couple of years teaching myself all I can about wellness and self-care. It's something I believe concerns us all because prevention has to be better than cure. I look around and see the strain that is put on our National Health Service and it seems obvious that we won't be able to rely on the great service we are used to if we overburden it with preventable illnesses. I have learnt about the importance of diet, exercise, sleep, morning light, being connected to nature, music and art. I have heard many experts in their field talk about the mental/physical/emotional bond and the dependance on one for the others, but what has struck me more than anything else whilst on this journey, is the importance of touch.
If I had some idea how essential it is to have regular touch in our lives before covid-19 turned up, it has been pushed to the front of my consiousness in these past months, looking first at the effect lack of contact has had on my own family and then society as a whole. It has sadly become an issue I believe will have an imact on the human race for many years to come. The choice of eliminating contact was not ours of course. We did what we were told was necessary to protect our health and the health of those around us but that doesn't make it any easier.
In 1989 neglected orhans were discovered in a Romanian orphanage. Their basic needs had been attended to, so thay had been fed, bathed, nappies changed etc, but they had not been given hugs, love or social interaction. They were completely withdrawn and very small for their ages. When some of these children were removed and were placed with foster families, improvements were seen, although mostly in children under two years old. The children who remained in care showed delays in cognitive function, motor development and language. They also suffered deficits in socio-emotional behaviors and experienced more psychiatric disorders. They even showed changes in the patterns of electrical activity in their brains. This is an extreme example of the effect neglect can have on a child but it is not only the young who crave physical connection.
Loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by 30%. Johann Hari describes eloquently in his fabulous book 'Lost Connections' that the human race, like animals in the wild survive and thrive because we are part of a tribe. Our connections with other people are what give us our identity. As a nurse I saw the difference a gentle hand could make when placed on the hand of a lonely and frightened patient. How many times have we placed a reassuring hand across the shoulder of a friend who is struggling? Studies have shown that touch makes us feel safe and secure. It soothes and can calm cardiovascular stress because it activates the body's vagus nerve, which helps it relax. Touch can also trigger the release of oxytocin, also known as the
the 'love hormone'. The rise of the internet and social media was the beginning of our separation from the tribe and Covid-19 is the continuation of this.
I honestly believe that once I get back to work I will be offering something that is not just wanted but is needed. There has never been a better time to invest in the touch and time Reflexology offers. Just because we can't connect in the same way we are used to, it doesn't mean we won't crave what nature tells us is fundamental to our wellbeing. I guarantee that in these uncertain and singular times, an hour of relaxation provided through the touch of caring hands is just what we all need.