Humans are creatures of connection. Perhaps the most powerful example of this is how we come into the world: completely vulnerable in our caregiver’s arms. As we develop, touch governs many of the ways we relate, trust, and collaborate with other people. This could be with a parent-child relationship, friendship, romantic partnership, or business. Touch is crucial to our mental, emotional, and physical health, as a significant portion of our brains and millions of epidermal cells are devoted to processing information through the skin.
Touch is also beneficial for our immune systems, with one 2014 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University finding that receiving hugs makes people more resistant to one of the respiratory viruses that causes the common cold. Positive touch also coincides with the release of the powerful oxytocin hormone, which reduces stress and improves immunity.
Unfortunately, touch is the one thing that we’ve all been studiously avoiding since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold this year. While those quarantined with spouses, children, or roommates still have access to certain forms of touch, those who are living alone are likely experiencing some level of touch deprivation or skin hunger. This occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living beings which can result in loneliness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, and similar symptoms.
Here are five simple ways to satisfy your need for touch during isolation:
Schedule socially distant visits with friends.
Depending on your comfort level, you can arrange socially distanced meetups with friends. You might reach out to friends who are in a similar position and discuss what you’d each need to feel safe meeting and if you feel comfortable exchanging any form of platonic touch. Now that COVID-19 tests are more widely available, it might be possible to get tested beforehand to further ease your mind.
Talk about it
If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable meeting friends in person, having frank discussions about the toll of isolation can have a therapeutic effect. This is especially true if you’re chatting via a video platform which offers more intimacy than a phone or text conversation. One silver lining of COVID-19 is the universality of our current experience. Regardless of whether someone is going through the exact same issues, they’re sure to relate to some degree.
Volunteer at an animal shelter
Pets can be a great source of comfort. If you don’t have furry friends of your own, local animal shelters are often open to volunteers who can walk or socialize the animals. This can be an effective way to assuage your craving for affection. If you have the time, space, and energy, you might consider fostering an animal.
Black woman holding dog in city
Become a plant parent
While a plant won’t cuddle you, having plants in the home has been scientifically shown to have a positive effect on task performance, health, and stress levels. Plants provide an outlet for nurturing and can also act as air purifiers and reduce indoor pollutants. Planting a vegetable or herb garden has the additional benefit of helping you nurture yourself with fresh foods.
If owning plants isn’t feasible for your living situation, spending time in nature can also have a positive health impact. One study found that spending just two hours a week in nature leads to good health and wellbeing. This could include regular walks around the neighborhood or a visit to your local public park or garden.
Whether sexual or nonsexual, touching yourself can be a great way to bond with yourself, relax, and practice self-care. Masturbation has an assortment of benefits, not limited to boosting your immune system, pain relief, lower stress, better sleep, and an improved mood. It can also be helpful for learning what you like so that you can better guide future partners.
If you’re not in the mood to self-pleasure, self-massage is an effective way to release tension and can be done with your own hands, a foam roller, or a massage cushion. If you’re short on time, you can commit to being more present as you gently scrub your skin in the shower or while applying moisturizer. Long warm baths and wrapping yourself in a blanket can also be effective for replicating the sensation of touch.