Touch: One of Life’s Essential Ingredients

By Gwenn Voelckers

A kiss. A hug. A gentle touch. No, this is not a column about romance in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. I am writing, instead, about a related matter: the importance of touching and being touched.

Both are essential to our sense of well-being.

This subject is especially relevant for those who live alone, because — on our own — we can be susceptible to touch deprivation. When that happens, we miss out on all the benefits of healthy human contact.

I’m no expert in this area, but others are, and their research has shown that touch is absolutely essential for emotional and physical health and development.

Studies conducted by the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute revealed that touch can do so much good: it can help reduce pain, anxiety and depression, lower heart rate and depression and even promote immune function and healing.

But I don’t need a study to convince me of the value of touch and affection. I have my own proof and it is revealed to me whenever I am touched or touch another. A friend’s warm hug can lift my spirits, a reassuring hand on my shoulder can hold the demons at bay, even a handshake can be affirming.

Those who live alone can often unwittingly, almost unconsciously, neglect this vital component of a happy, healthy life. It’s easy to do, especially if you have a tendency toward isolation or are without a significant other in your life. If that’s the case, I encourage you to take notice.

Is touch absent in your life? Has it been weeks or months since you enjoyed the warmth of an embrace? When was the last time you felt the comfort of a soothing caress? Or, exchanged backrubs with a friend?

Below are a few tips to “keep in touch.” They have worked for me, and it’s my hope that you, too, will benefit from incorporating positive, loving touch into your life.

Become a hugger. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re not a hugger, consider becoming one. A little practice is all it takes.

Hugging didn’t come naturally to me. It wasn’t something I grew up with, so it felt awkward at first. I was forever bumbling the embrace: leaning left, when I should have been leaning right; knocking heads; or sending glasses askew.

So, years ago, I made a deliberate decision to become a hugger. Intuitively, I knew I was missing out on this natural form of human expression. The good news? I got better at it over time, and life is sweeter as a result.

Volunteer to touch. The benefits of “loving touch” are not just for the ones receiving it. Those who deliver it also reap great personal rewards and satisfaction. If you look around, there are plenty of opportunities to administer positive, healthy touch to someone in need.

Many hospitals have volunteer “rockers” for newborns, and nursing homes are often looking for volunteers to make personal connections with residents who may not have family nearby. Just an hour visiting with a resident, while applying hand lotion, could make her day.

To volunteer in this way can be a healing act of kindness, one that says we are in this life together. What soothes one soothes us all.

Own a pet. Study after study has shown that petting a dog or gently stroking a cat can have a calming effect on people by lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety. Again, I don’t need a study to validate my own experience.

Petting my beloved springer spaniel Scout or snuggling with her on the couch has an immediate and relaxing effect on me. After a busy day, almost nothing is as grounding as a few minutes with my affectionate pooch.

Get in touch with yourself. Self-gratification for pleasure or with the goal to sooth, heal or relieve tension is natural and can be a healthy expression of self-care and affirmation. When you “love the one you’re with,” something profound and restorative can result.

Splurge for a massage. I read recently that, “Massage is to the human body what a tune-up is for a car.” Among its many benefits, therapeutic massage can bring relief from anxiety, reduce stress, fight fatigue and increase your capacity for tranquil thinking and creativity.

If touch is absent in your life, this form of safe, non-intimate human contact can refocus the body’s natural ability to heal and regenerate itself. Plus, it just feels wonderful!

You can make a conscious effort to bring more touch into your daily life and, in doing so, bring more happiness to yourself and those around you. Touch enhances bonding and gives us a sense of belonging — important essentials for everyone, but especially for those who live alone.

Gwenn Voelckers leads Alone and Content empowerment workshops for women held in Mendon and is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, call 585-624-7887, email gvoelckers@rochester.rr.com, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com.

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