Physical touch is one of the five basic senses, and it’s a part of our everyday lives.
“Being social and meeting other people is, I think, the essence of being human," Dr. Helena Wasling said. "If that’s taken away, it would be strange if we were not affected by it.”
Neuroscience researcher Helena Wasling has spent years researching the human touch system. She says touch impacts how people feel and act. So when the pandemic takes away our ability to physically interact with each other, there’s a part of us that feels empty.
“Touch is not just intense hugging or massages," Dr. Wasling said. "It’s the everyday touch so a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back, or when you emphasize what you want to say to someone, maybe you hold their lower arm or something. Or shaking hands, that important ritual that we have just to say hello and acknowledge people, now that we don’t have that anymore, it’s sort of like a part of our ways of communication is actually lost.”
Dr. Wasling says touching somebody can help them feel included, connected, and seen. It can also calm them down.
“So, touch from people to people will lower your blood pressure, it will lower your heartbeat, and it will also lower the levels of your stress hormones within your system," she explained.
People who have been isolated for more than a year are likely suffering from loneliness, depression and anxiety. However, Dr. Wasling says there are ways to help yourself if you’re missing physical touch from other humans. For example, if you have a furry friend, spend some extra time cuddling them, or consider offering your body some warmth.
“Lowering yourself into a warm bath or having a shower, that’s also a tactile experience and that activates this part of the nervous system that’s an emotional touch system,” Dr. Wasling said.
Dr. Wasling says even watching people sweetly embrace each other can help. More importantly, if you do have the opportunity to see somebody in person, Dr. Wasling says you can elevate your other senses by being fully present with them.
“Maybe we should be aware that it’s very important when we see each other, even if it’s a certain distance, that we should meet eyesight and we should be better about eye contact to really help people feel like they’re being seen," Dr. Wasling said. "And we could use our hearing. For example, all these smartphones that almost everyone has, maybe we should use them for what they were intended for, to have a proper conversation.”
Meaningful human interaction is more important than ever as we continue to navigate this pandemic lifestyle.