Our sense of touch is the most sophisticated and intimate of the five senses. First developed in the womb, our sense of touch is a powerful tool in nonverbal communication and plays an important in our development and survival.
Touch can come in many different forms, some can promote physical and psychological well-being. A warm, loving touch can lead to positive outcomes while a violent touch can ultimately lead to a negative outcome.
What is touch starvation?
Touch starvation is the longing for positive physical contact from other living beings. It generally occurs when a person experiences little or no physical contact for a prolonged period of time.
The last couple of years have been a reminder, if we ever needed one, that humans are social beings, and research suggests that most people feel comfort, security, and satisfaction from physical contact.
The deprivation or removal of physical touch or haptic communication from a person’s life can result in them experiencing negative sensations, such as feelings of emptiness and loneliness.
Though exact measurements are difficult to attain and may only come to light toward the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers estimate that the number of people experiencing some form of touch starvation is steadily increasing due to lockdowns, social distancing, and restrictions on gatherings put in place to limit the spread of the virus.
Feelings of anxiety or discomfort when returning to normal day-to-day life may exacerbate the negative aspects of touch starvation in the future.
It can be hard for someone to know if they are experiencing touch starvation. The most common symptoms include an overwhelming sensation of loneliness, stress, anxiety, feelings of depression, low satisfaction, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue.
The importance of touch
Touch is important for humans and animals when it comes to maintaining interpersonal relationships and communicating emotions. Touch has emerged as a key factor for the facilitation of growth and development; positive effects of supplemental touch stimulation have been demonstrated in a wide range of organisms in multiple studies, from worm larvae to rat pups to human infants.
Touch has the power to activate particular areas of the brain and can influence thought processes, reactions, and physiological responses. Research suggests that touch activates the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain which plays an important role in regulating emotional and social behaviour as well as learning and decision making.
A 2017 study found that embracing and patting children in distress had a soothing effect to the point that stress levels were quickly reduced. Another study in 2015 found evidence that human touch can also assist in our bodies fighting off infections.
Therefore, touch deprivation may be having the exact opposite effect and cause us to become more susceptible infections. Further, this lack of physical contact leads us to the aforementioned touch starvation.
The harmful effects of touch starvation
Touch starvation can increase feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. This may trigger myriad negative physiological effects.
For example, our bodies release the hormone cortisol to combat stress. Elevated levels of cortisol can increase heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and respiration and suppress our digestive and immune systems, which can increase the risk of infection.
A study in 2018 found that our skin can communicate both positive and negative touch stimuli to sensory nerves. This nerves translate the sensation of touch to our brain. Positive touch like low intensity stroking causes the body to release oxytocin, known to some as the “love hormone”.
The psychological complications of touch starvation begin with feelings of loneliness and isolation, these are likely to result in feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Research also notes that those who report loneliness show dampened cognitive function.
If you find yourself wanting to spend time alone through preference, quarantine, social distancing or for any other reason, wrapping up in a weighted blanket can provide comfort and simulate the feeling of human touch thorough deep touch stimulation. Deep touch stimulation is the soothing feeling of a big hug, the same way it felt to be swaddled as an infant, achieving a sense of peace and calm.
Both the DORMU Cooler and Snuggler are scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and promote a deeper and longer sleep. The evenly distributed weight applies gentle pressure across your body, relaxing the nervous system and offering a comforting hug-like sensation, with the added benefit of avoiding increased body heat.
Take a look at the DORMU weighted blanket collection and experience the power and benefits of deep touch stimulation.