(Alanna Ketler) How often do you hug or touch someone who is not a member of your family or a partner? When did you pat the back of a complete stranger or opt in for a hug upon meeting someone? Physical touch, in general is becoming increasingly unpopular due to a lot of fear and worry around someone not reciprocating and potentially even taking legal action.
by Alanna Ketler, April 20th, 2018
While it’s true, you never know how someone might react, how is this lack of social touch affecting us as humans? Why are we being told that in all cases it’s inappropriate?
There are many people who aren’t the type to give hugs, and if you are, you know what I mean. You can feel their level of discomfort and shock at times when you reach in for a hug. Everywhere we turn there is fear that a hug or act of physical affection could end up in a lawsuit, people are more afraid than ever to reach out to someone in need and it comes at a cost.
Currently the UK is facing a loneliness epidemic – half a million older people go at least five days a week without seeing or touching a single soul and there is no doubt that this is having a very negative effect on their mental well-being.
An industry of touch has been flourishing over the past several years. We are seeing professional cuddlers host workshops, parties, and one on one cuddle sessions for those who are feeling a lack of touch and comfort in their lives. A cuddle retail centre in Portland, Oregon – Cuddle Up To Me, offers a menu of 72 ways to cuddle and can actually pay to be cuddled by those who consider themselves professionals. The fact that a market for this even exists shows how disconnected we have all become from what is generally a natural part of humanity.
What Do Experts Say?
“Of course we are moving away from touch!” exclaims Francis McGlone, a professor in neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University and a leader in the field of affective touch. He expresses his concern by saying,“We have demonized touch to a level at which it sparks off hysterical responses, it sparks off legislative processes, and this lack of touch is not good for mental health.” He has heard of teachers asking children to stick on a plaster themselves, rather than touch them and risk a complaint. “We seem to have been creating a touch-averse world,” he says. “It’s time to recover the social power of touch.”
While many might agree with what he is saying, there is still the very real issue that not only are some people closed off or opposed to touch, some people do not respect other people’s boundaries and can take it too far, or come about it with an uncomfortable energy.
Do We Really NEED Physical Touch?
As professor McGlone stated above, a lack of physical touch is not good for mental health, and he’s conducted some research to back that up. Touch is much more than just a stimulation of one of the five senses. One of the nerve endings in our body, c tactile afferents has been studied by McGlone for years and according to The Guardian, to find this nerve ending,
“A needle is inserted into the skin to “fish”. “It’s like sitting on the banks of the river,” McGlone says. “One’s a pain fish. One’s an itch fish.” Hours can pass before anyone catches a gentle touch nerve, but this elusive fibre has helped to teach scientists why humans need touch.
By watching the nerve’s discharge behavior while the skin is stroked, scientists have learned that the optimum speed of a human caress is 3cm to 5cm a second.
This may sound like a diverting snippet of touch trivia, but its application is far-reaching. When a parent strokes a child, for instance, “they are writing out the script that was laid down by 30 million years of evolution,” McGlone says. “We are destined to cuddle and stroke each other at predetermined velocities.” The pleasantness encourages us to keep touching, nourishes babies and binds adults, and threads wellbeing into the fabric of our being. It could also teach us more about the touch-averse, including how and when autism and eating disorders develop, and even lead us to a cure for loneliness.”
Researchers from University College London demonstrated last year how slow and gentle strokes from a complete stranger actually reduced feelings of social exclusion.
“Bang on!” McGlone says. “This nerve fibre is responsible for so many aspects of our wellbeing across our lifespan. I call it the Higgs boson of the social brain. The missing particle that glues everything social together.” Ironically, having been brought up in the 50s, when parental affection was thought to encourage mawkish children, he is himself sensitive to touch, and feels a gentle stroke ‘like an electric shock.’”
By now many of us are becoming aware of just how Important It Is To Hug And Hold Your Babies.
How Can We Shift This Lack Of Connection?
As discussed above, this can be a little bit tricky as many people are afraid of touch. A gentle touch on the arm, hand on the shoulder or pat on the back is generally pretty harmless, but what about a hug? A good rule of thumb is to not just approach a new person with open arms, this might make them very uncomfortable, but you can ask if they would like to share a hug.
You can say, “I’m a hugger and I would love to share a hug with you if you’re open to it.” You can also start with hugging your friends when you greet them, even if someone doesn’t realize it, it’s very likely that they could actually use a hug. It’s time to bring back physical touch, love and affection!
About the Author
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