Physical touch is key to well-being: here's why
David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of mental wellbeing and self-development platform, Remente comments on the importance of touch on our mental and physical health.
Close relationships with others play a vital role in our health, and studies show that both social connection and touch broadly shape biological responses and behaviours that impact our overall wellbeing.
Touch is the first sense available to us when we are babies, as biologically, this helps create the bond between infant and mother, fostering a sense of safety for the baby. This connection between touch and safety stays with us as we grow older, explaining part of the draw to form romantic and social relationships.
The main hormone and neurotransmitter affiliated with human touch is oxytocin. This hormone, also known as the “love" or "cuddle" hormone, is released from daily acts of touch, during orgasm, or in childbirth to help boost levels of attraction between people.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Psychosom Medicine has found that intimacy can be associated with reduced daily cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s alarm system that goes off when your body is stressed and controls your mood, motivation, and fear levels. It's completely natural, but too much stress can cause everything from headaches to depression. The study further found a reduction in chronic problems in couples that touched regularly.
A lack of oxytocin from touch can have detrimental effects on our wellbeing. Studies have found that lack of touch can lead to loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
Here are four fantastic ways to experience more touch, and the manifold benefits that come with it:
Cuddles with your partner
If you are in a relationship, start by cuddling with your partner for even ten minutes a day.
This brief break from everyday life will not only release oxytocin but also deepen your relationship, as it provides you with a moment to focus solely on your partner.
These small touches also release dopamine, which is the hormone responsible for increases in sexual emotions. Sex is also a great stress reliever and helps boost happiness.
Cuddles from someone you trust
Of course, if you're not in a relationship, you can seek touch from friends and family. A hug hello or simply holding hands with someone you trust can also release oxytocin.
If you don't feel comfortable with this, then you can even hug yourself. A warm bath or a massage can also help, as feeling warm and connected, triggered by a comforting touch sensation, is enough to release oxytocin into your system.
Cuddles from a therapist
Cuddle therapy is when a professional holds, rocks, and cuddles a client, within a safe, platonic environment, to help restore and nurture therapeutic touch.
Nordic Cuddle, for example, is run by Finnish therapist, Rebekka Mikkola, and for £30 you can enjoy a one-hour cuddle session.
Cuddles with animals
Cuddling an animal can have a similar calming, soothing, and reassuring effect on both you and the animals themselves.
Recent studies, including one published by BMC Psychiatry, have shown that owning an animal can help relieve stress and boost positive emotions. Studies have also show that interacting with animals can increase the oxytocin and lower cortisol levels, which helps us to calm down and feel more relaxed.
If you don't own an animal, then consider picking up a hobby that allows you to spend time with animals, such as horse riding, or volunteering at an animal shelter.
Says Linn Olsson, equestrian expert from training app and social network tailored for equestrians, Equilab: “Horses have been used for emotional and physical therapy for decades. It takes time and patience to gain trust between the rider and the horse, and often does not start with riding, but rather with touch—grooming, feeding, and saddling. Starting horse riding as a hobby, even for a couple of times per week, can help you build trust, socialise, and boost happiness levels. Equestrian therapy has been used with people that suffer from, anxiety and ADD, among other symptoms, and has been recognised as an important area in the medical field for a long time.”