When the palm of my two hands hold each other
That feels different
From when your hands are in mine.
That’s just the way it is.
— “Superpower” by Beyoncé Knowles Carter
Queen Bey is right! Hugging, shaking hands, or a quick high five could be all the stimulation your body needs for the day. But try to be without it for weeks, and even months.
As a Black woman, and an 80s baby, living and working from home with limited human interaction in her normal life, I have been craving for any way to get physical contact with another person. Safely, of course. But how do you do this when even hugging could introduce the virus?
That’s what millions of people around the world are going through right now to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. With shelter-in-place orders still in effect in some places, people who live alone (or who are in strained relationships and might as well be alone) are cut off from physical society, leading to increased depression, anxiety, and stress.
“Being touch starved,” says Hawaii-based sex therapist and licensed clinical psychologist Janet Brito, “occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things.”
DeAna Jo Vivian, a licensed professional counselor in Atlanta, explains that touch starvation is a growing by-product of this pandemic. In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 37.5 million Americans lived alone, so the number of people suffering in silence could be more than anticipated.
“In the real world, we are collective as species,” says Vivian, “so we need that human touch, that embrace. Our skin is the largest organ. It actually relays and transmits our senses and touch to our human brain.”
I have been craving for any way to get physical contact with another person.
Even as some people are taking a masked chance at gathering with friends and family, and walking side-by-side in protests, others are still remaining inside.
Until we get completely comfortable with big bear embraces again, here are some temporary replacements for touch that can ease stress and anxiety until the time is right to hug your momma again.
Long hot baths and showers
This relieves muscle tension, puts you in a better mood, and minimizes cold and flu symptoms, which is great for lowering your chances of getting Covid-19. Extra points if you add bubble bath or bath salts.
Wrapping up in a warm blanket
This is similar to the swaddling method that is used on newborn babies. The warmth from the blanket reminds the newborn of being back in the womb which makes them feel warm, comfortable, and snug. Cuddling yourself in your favorite blanket while binge-watching Netflix will calm your nerves in the same way.
Stimulating your skin
Being the largest organ of the human body, your skin knows when there has been a lack of touch and feels the absence of stimulation. Using the traditional Chinese acupressure can be just as effective in providing touch stimulation as a firm hug or holding someone’s hand. Using your index finger and thumb, press the web of your other hand for five seconds. This relieves tension in your shoulders, and using your index finger or thumb and firmly rubbing on the temple of your face in a circular motion will relieve sinus pain and help you feel relaxed.
Adopt a pet
Spending some time with your favorite four-legged friend cuts down on loneliness and depression, and encourages exercises (which raises your body’s oxytocin, the “happy hormone,” levels). Don’t have an animal at home? Vivian suggests you contact your local animal shelter and inquire about fostering a dog or cat during this pandemic.
Enhance your other four senses
We do need to take care of our sense of touch, but we also need to give our other senses some TLC. Try using different spices to enhance your taste buds, watching the sunrise, listening to a different channel on Spotify, and lighting a scented candle that you’ve been wanting to try. All these can be comforting to your body in different ways.
Virtual meetings with your besties
Video chatting with your BFFs is more beneficial than a text message. “If I can’t actually touch you,” says Vivian, “seeing you helps.” She also says that even though you are not able to touch them, seeing their facial expressions and hearing laughter in the intonation in their voice also increases oxycontin by 80%.
Dance like no one’s watching
As a form of exercising, busting a move during Club Quarantine or with your own favorite playlist also boosts your oxytocin levels. Boosting oxytocin levels provide you with the same feeling provided by a bear hug.
Writing your thoughts and feelings in a notebook helps you to process those feelings instead of trying to suppress them and pushing them down. Try to add journaling with other mindfulness techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises.