"Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth." - Margaret Atwood
What is cultivated in childhood continues through adulthood. Social connections... physical touch... intimacy... immunity? How are they connected? Let's see...
"Touch has a memory" - John Keats
In Our Early Years:
When babies enter the world, skin-to-skin contact with a parent makes the transition earthside a little easier. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact are extensive for both the parents and the baby.
The benefits for the baby include: stabilizing the baby's core temperature, deep bonding, improving baby's immune system through contact with skin, calming the baby, promoting better sleep, reducing stress and regulating core bodily functions through hormone release.
The benefits for parent are almost identical to that of baby and include: an increase in milk production for mom, promotes healthy emotions and feelings toward baby, deep/fast bonding, promotes healing, and releases "feel good" hormones through eye gazing.
As soon as we are born, we experience the pure bliss of skin-to-skin contact, both physically and emotionally. The benefits of touch for both parent and child continue through life into adulthood. Positive human touch, like a warm embrace or a reassuring touch on the shoulder, are necessary forms of human interaction and bonding — much like eye contact. From the time we are in the womb through our elderly years, touch plays a primary role in our development and physical and mental well-being.
So what happens when we go for long periods of time without a hug or just social contact? What happens when we experience the isolating effects of social media and technology? What happens when we lose sight of one of our most instinctive responses to stress?
Touch + Immunity
"Physical touch makes you healthier. Hugs, massages, and holding hands reduces stress while boosting the immune system." - unknown
Our skin is the largest organ in our body, when we hug or feel a friendly touch on our skin, our brain releases serotonin and oxytocin, the "feel good” and “bonding” hormones. Both of which are involved in increasing positive, feel-good sensations of trust, emotional bonding and social connection, while decreasing fear and anxiety responses in the brain at the same time. Surprising research show massages also increase the abundance of T-cells in the body. T-cells are the front lines of the immune system. So, essentially, more massages and intimate cuddles could increase your body's front line defenses. 🥰
Additional Benefits of Touch In Adulthood:
Improve heart health
Better sleep and support weight loss
Reduce feelings of stress and sadness mitigating susceptibility to infectious disease
Vital to early development, communication, personal relationships, and fighting disease
Regulate digestion from increased exposure to skin microbiome, "huddle effect" (primate study, very interesting read)
The Bottom Line:
Stress increases cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol drastically reduces the efficiency of the immune system, making people more likely to get sick. Oxytocin, a hormone released from positive physical touch, has the ability to reverse the impact of cortisol and return the body back to balance. Hugs, massages, handshakes, pats on the back, team-like interactions, and cuddles essentially strengthen the immune system and increases feelings of social support. Skin-to-skin contact with your partner also has the potential to improve the immune system by exposure to the skin's microbiome.🤎
Physical Touch As A Love Language
"Hugs were created to let people know you love them without having to say anything"
Physical touch is one of the 5 love languages Dr. Gary Chapman speaks about in his world renowned book The 5 Love Languages. Physical touch is a love language that is more complex that just sex. A gentle, unexpected touch is like an emotional lifeline for someone who's primary love language is physical touch. But, what if you're not a touchy person? What if you and your partner are waiting to have sex? What if there's distance between you two?
A hug from behind, a tight embrace, a kiss on the forehead or anywhere on the body, skin-to-skin, holding hands, scheduling them a massage, kissing, even a solid high-five — oh, those feels. A touch that reminds them that you value their presence in your space creates emotional intimacy, reassurance, and, of course, boosts the immune system. Some speculate that those who crave physical touch as an adult could have potentially been deprived of emotional intimacy, hugs, or other forms of positive physical touch in childhood. Could this be the same for the other love languages? Take a moment to reflect.
One thing I learned from the global pandemic was to value social connections, intimacy, and physical touch. A physical hug could really go a long way. If you made it this far, I hope you found the information valuable! Comment below any reflections or thoughts that came up while reading. Hugs! 🫂
Till next time,
The Power of Touch: The Basis of Survival, Health, Intimacy, and Emotional Well-Being by Dr. Phyllis K. Davis, PhD
Hello world! I am Chérie Jade, I am passionate about promoting a holistic lifestyle and encouraging preventative practices for day to day healthy living.