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Recovering From Touch Deprivation Amid the Pandemic

Human beings need physical contact for health and well-being, an experience many have been lacking

Of our five senses, our ability to sense touch (haptic sense) is the first one to develop as a growing fetus. In fact, touch is the one sense that we can’t live without. While we can adapt to losing our sense of smell, sight, taste, or hearing—when the sense of touch is lost—we lose the ability to effectively sit up, walk, or feel pain.

Research shows that humans don’t simply desire touch—they need it. Without enough positive human touch, it’s possible to develop a condition called touch deprivation.


Touch deprivation can increase stress, anxiety, and depression and lead to numerous additional negative physiological effects. For example, as a response to stress, the body makes a hormone called cortisol. This stress response can cause the heart rateblood pressure, muscle tension, and breathing rates to increase, which in turn negatively affects the immune and digestive systems. Individuals who go without positive physical touch for long periods of time can even suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research shows that a growing number of people have experienced touch deprivation due to the social distancing requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lack of physical contact from social distancing has been a major factor in many people experiencing profound sadness, depression, and anxiety. Human touch has measurable impacts on a person’s physical and mental health.

Positive moments of human touch can do the following:

·       Calm the nervous system

·       Boost the immune system

·       Activate oxytocin, critical for bonding

·       Reduce stress

·       Decrease depression and anxiety

·       Lower pain levels

·       Improve healing

·       Lower blood and heart rate

·       Improve mood

·       Eliminate sleep disturbances

How to counter the effects of touch deprivation:

Self-massage: Practicing self-massage helps to reduce touch deprivation. Massaging the neck and stimulating the vagus nerve helps to reduce stress.

Staying in touch with loved ones: Research shows a link between video calls and reduced feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Interacting with pets: Research shows that oxytocin levels peak in dog owners when they caress their pets. Playing with your pet can help you relax and ease some touch deprivation symptoms.

Using body pillows: Body pillows can mimic the sensation of cuddling. Research suggests that hugging an inanimate object, such as a pillow, can help reduce stress.

Exercising: Research shows that physical activity may help bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Exercise can enhance your mood and overall well-being and reduce feelings of stress and depression.

Christy Prais

Christy A. Prais received her business degree from Florida International University. She is founder and host of Discovering True Health, a YouTube Channel and podcast dedicated to health and wellness, and contributing journalist for the Epoch Times. Christy also serves on the advisory board at the Fostering Care Healing School. 

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