I’m not a very touchy-feely person. I much prefer a wave over a handshake – and that’s even before the pandemic hit – and don’t even get me started on cheek-kissing (what a spurious social ball-ache). And yet, as social distancing regulations reach their seventh month in action, I’m surprised to find myself missing, and even craving, hugs. Previously, I would awkwardly work my way round a room, reluctantly embracing everyone one by one in what would now be described as Covid-19 conga line. But now, I’m finding I have to hold myself back, repressing a desire to practically pounce on my friends and family members.
Sure, it might be a case of wanting what you can’t have, but my experience also lends itself to the theory that human contact is a fundamental need and necessary for overall happiness and health. In fact, Dr Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine found that lonely people can succumb to something called touch deprivation, aggravating depression and negatively affecting the immune system.
Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist at The Private Therapy Clinic agrees: “It is extremely important for the wellbeing of individuals to experience touch,” she explains. “Touch releases oxytocin, a hormone that relieves stress and makes you feel calm. Humans need to feel touch in order to experience balanced emotions and self-esteem. Of course, each individual has their own preference for the amount of touch they give and receive, but we can all benefit from a comforting touch which can in turn release feelings such as compassion.”
But with the government recommending we stay 2 meters away from one another – a practice that becomes law on Monday – many of us, especially those who live alone, have experienced a chronic lack of contact. “Since August, when lockdown restrictions were lifted, we have seen a huge uplift in demand for massage services,” says Elliot Walker, founder of The Massage Company. “Mental health, stress and social isolation are the key things that our customers are talking about right now, along with the pain they are suffering from working from dining room tables, laptops on the sofa and in smaller flats, even having to use the ironing board for a desk. We had one particular lady who lives on her own and before we re-opened in August, she had not seen or had the feeling of human touch for six months.”
With no signs to suggest social distancing measures will be relaxed any time soon, it makes sense to book in a massage while you can. “In the absence of having someone at home or in your social bubble who you can touch and hold, then having a massage or a treatment in a spa or salon can also be beneficial and activate the oxytocin. You then also have the added assurance that you’re receiving that comfort in a safe and hygienic way”. As if we needed convincing…