To be able to feel the lightest touch really is a gift. ~ Christopher Reeve
Take a moment to close your eyes and touch your fingertips to the tips of your thumbs. Touch your computer lightly with your fingers. Touch the fabric of your clothing. Touch your face. Touch the things around you right now. We gather information through our sense of touch.
Touch is the most important of the five senses of our body. All human activity involves touching. With touch, we feel, we love and we hate.
Our skin allows us to feel wind, particles, changes in temperature, humidity, pressure, radiation, energy and light. Blindfolded, with one tap of our fingertip, we are able to determine whether we are touching paper, fabric, wood, plastic, steel or a human.
Twining your fingers together with your one-and-only is enormously calming. James Coan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, discovered this when he administered functional MRIs to 16 married women while telling them they might experience a mild shock.
The resulting anxiety caused the images of their brain activity to light up like Christmas trees. But when the women held hands with one of the experimenters that stress response subsided — and when they held hands with their husbands, it really quieted down. “There was a qualitative shift in the number of regions in the brain that just weren’t reacting anymore to the threat cue,” Coan says.
Even more intriguing: When you’re in a happy relationship, clasping hands reduces stress-related activity in a brain area called the hypothalamus — which lowers the levels of cortisol coursing through your system — as well as in the part of the brain that registers pain, which actually helps keep you from feeling it as much.
Touch is the first sense we experience when we are born. Many doctors believe that a child’s mental, emotional and physical well-being depend a lot on a tender touch. There was an old belief that premature infants should only be touched minimally to decrease the risk of an infection. This also avoided arousing the infant and putting undue strain on its heart and lungs. It has been proven now that premature babies need to be touched just like other babies. Touch comforts, increases weight and ultimately decreases medical costs.
According to Uncommon Knowledge.com, in one study, underweight premature babies received special attention. For ten days the infants were given three fifteen minute massages. Warm gentle hands lightly stroked the babies from head to foot and gently exercised the arms and legs. Weight gain is a critical factor in the survival of a premature baby and even though the touched babies consumed the same number of calories as the untouched babies they gained on average 50% more weight per day.
In addition, the stimulated babies had more efficient metabolisms and were able to go home on average six days earlier. Up to a year later they had maintained their growth advantage and had better mental and physical abilities. And all from ten days of therapeutic touch.
"The benefits of touch show up at every age," says psychologist Tiffany Field, who directs the Touch Research Institutes at the University of the Miami School of Medicine. Premature infants, who are held and gently massaged, develop faster, cry less and sleep better than those left alone. Far from injuring the infant, 3 massages a day for 10 days may result in fewer episodes of apnea, a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Touch is vital for adults too. It makes us feel connected.
The effect of even the most casual touch can be astonishing. In one survey, waitresses who touched their customers on the hand or shoulder as they returned change received larger tips than those who didn't.
How much we touch is partly driven by our cultural and family backgrounds. In the 1960’s psychologist Sidney Jourard roamed cafés in the US, England, France and Puerto Rico observing couples for a minimum of one hour. He tallied up the number of touches between couples in these various countries. He found that an average couple in Puerto Rico touched 180 times in one hour, in France it was 120, in the USA it was twice and in good old England the couples never touched!
In her book "Healing with Heart," Terri Moss writes about a patient who had recently undergone surgery for cancer. The patient found the operating room to be cold and sterile. This added to his already anxious state. Then one of the nurses touched his arm and another stroked his hair; this human touch reassured him and put him at ease. He later told a nurse, "I want you to know how important that was."
We are integrated beings and we cannot separate the physical from the emotional, mental or spiritual aspects of ourselves. When we are physically ill, we are also affected emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Likewise, when we are stressed or emotional about something we often feel it in our physical body such as developing a headache or we have a change in digestion or have difficulty sleeping. Our body, mind, emotions and spirit are who we are as a whole person and we need to take care of that whole person.
We all are inherently programmed to receive and give touch to each other. Without touch, relationships fail to blossom, not just among lovers, but between parent and child too. We all know how a crying child responds instantaneously to the touch of his mother and becomes quiet immediately. How we are told to hug our children to help them grow into emotionally healthy and caring persons in life.
Most failing marriages lack the right touches and need a right touch to set it right!
Let’s, begin from home. Let’s just reach out and hug our child, our parent, or our partner today, and watch that sunny beam spread on their faces, to warm the cockles of our own heart. Go touch!