It is April 27th, 2020. COVID-19 abounds. I am sitting on my dad's couch in Colorado, eating an orange next to a faux fireplace. My sister's black lab is staring at me. I sit here wondering if he is ever aware of his inability to interact with other doggies at his leisure. He can't go see his dog friends unless a human allows it. He can't frolic or roughhouse with or sniff another dog without being given permission from his governing owner.
"I feel you, bud." I say to my sister's dog with a sigh.
If you're anything like me, you are FEELING the lack of human interaction during this global pandemic. I'm not only talking about the psychological effects (anxiety as a bi-product of not interacting with coworkers face to face, or maybe the extra motivation that is needed to get out of bed). I am talking specifically about the physiological side effects that the body undergoes when we cannot hug, when we cannot share energies or move in a space with other bodies, when we are stuck behind screens, and when we are suffering from a lack of touch and are made aware of it.
I realize that many people thrive in these circumstances, my father being one of them. I realize that many individuals are energized through isolation, and see the opportunity in it. I respect those individuals, after all, whatever you need to bring yourself peace during this peculiar instance of our existence, is the RIGHT THING. As long as you are not impeding upon anyone else's safety, peace, or livelihood, do what is right by you.
However, I am writing this blog post for those of us who literally feel detached from the earth if we don't receive human touch, for those of us who find purpose and validation in a genuine embrace, and for those of us who feel like we're sinking through the earth when there's too much FaceTime and not enough face time.
Speaking as a professional dancer and personal trainer, I have seen and felt the consequences that arise when one strays from self care. The body sends signals as warning signs when something is off balance. In today's world with work, kids, bills, millions of distractions, and an overload of screen time, it is all too easy to ignore those signals until it is too late. The body is affected by imbalances in our psyche, and vice versa. How many times have you felt upset by limited mobility due to an injury, "worried yourself sick," or endured an all-day hangover because you needed to take the edge off the night before? If your mind is struggling to succumb to limited human interaction, chances are your body is, too. If you are reading this and feeling like things have been a little off lately, whether in mind or body, then they probably are, and that's ok. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to take the time to self reflect, pin point and name our imbalances, and to do something about it to MOVE forward with a healthier, more integrated mind body connection. After all, "if we're not moving, we're dying."
If you're anything like me, you may have noticed several aspects of every day life that have shifted (or have significantly suffered) due to a lack of physical interaction...
1. Mood/ increased aggression.
A study conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine compared a group of kids in Miami to a group of kids in Paris. The young children in Paris received significantly more touch from their parents, and the adolescent children received more touch from one another than the children in Miami. They observed the children in Paris behaving less aggressively towards one another, both physically and verbally. They saw that touch with moderate pressure, such as a massage or a hug, slowed down the heart rate and decreased blood pressure.
I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that when I begin to feel insecure within my personal relationships, it is usually due to a lack of physical touch or connection. A sincere embrace is sometimes all that I need to feel validated and secure within my own body and mind, and I figured there must be a reason for it on a cellular level.
Growth hormones are stimulated in babies and young children from the love of a mother's touch. "Cincinnati Children's Hospital is one of a number of leading health centers in the US that now uses healing touch therapy. Research has demonstrated that patients who receive healing touch experience accelerated wound healing and relaxation, pain relief and general comfort."
Touch is how we communicate. To communicate by means of physical interaction develops our sense of empathy and self awareness. Tactile feedback reminds us that we do indeed exist, as a body, in space.
Touch is also known to release oxytocin, known widely as a hormone that promotes bonding and feelings of love and well being. "Work at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences suggests that oxytocin can induce anti-stress-like effects, including reduction in blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol: "It increases pain thresholds and stimulates various types of positive social interaction, and it promotes growth and healing. Oxytocin can be released by various types of non-noxious sensory stimulation, for example by touch and warmth."
Studies done at Duke University show that touch and massage inhibit stress hormone release, which compromise the body's immune system. Dr. Tiffany Field from the Touch Research Institute states, "we have found that massage actually increases natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are at the front lines of the immune system. They kill viral cells and bacterial cells. We think the reason that this happens is because we're knocking down cortisol levels, the body's culprit stress hormone. Cortisol kills natural killer cells, and so if we can reduce the stress hormones, we can save natural killer cells."
So, if you were curious as to why any of these areas have been suffering or experiencing change, science tells us that it is COMPLETELY NORMAL, and to be expected. If you are self isolating alone, I suggest yoga, self massage, or hop on Amazon and buy yourself a weighted blanket. If you are self isolating with a partner, I suggest prioritizing your physical relationship. Find ways to keep each other feeling excited. Be physically dependable. Make sure that your partner is feeling physically safe and sound. If you are taking care of your partner's body, you are taking care of their mind as well. If you are feeling an imbalance, make it known. Ask for touch! Chances are, you and your partner are craving it more than you are aware.