Skin Hunger: Are You Experiencing Touch Deprivation?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Another Medium writer Yael Wolfe wrote a recent post, Alone In A Pandemic — No hugs, no sex, no groceries…what’s a single gal to do?, and it got me to thinking about the power of a hug and the lack thereof.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people, especially those who live alone, will experience “skin hunger,” or touch deprivation, for the first time because of social distancing.

Our bodies need touch to function optimally.

As most of us know, skin to skin contact stimulates oxytocin, also called the “love hormone.” This contact is stressed for mother and baby immediately after birth for myriad physical effects, including stress relief, brain health and healing promotion.

In the article, “C-tactile afferent stimulating touch carries a positive affective value,the authors explain how nerve fibers are believed to aid during the bodily process of human touch.

“The rewarding sensation of touch in affiliative interactions is hypothesized to be underpinned by a specialized system of nerve fibers called C-Tactile afferents (CTs), which respond optimally to slowly moving, gentle touch, typical of a caress.” — by Ralph Pawling,Peter R. Cannon, Francis P. McGlone, and Susannah C. Walker

The article also references the Social Touch Hypothesis, which is a theory that touch is integral in human development and in social bonding.

Symptoms of Touch Deprivation

It is commonly accepted that touch is connected to our mental and physical well being. When we go without regular physical contact, we can experience symptoms such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • aggressive behavior
  • stress
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loneliness
  • avoidance or fear of attachments or relationships (I’m pondering this one silently.)

People suffering from lack of touch may also find themselves subconsciously doing things to replace that feeling, such as bundling themselves in blankets, taking long and hot showers, and snuggling up to pets or even hugging pillows.

Well, I am no stranger to isolation, even before the current crisis. The thing about being deprived of human touch, is that it sneaks up on you.

When I first escaped an abusive and controlling relationship, I found myself newly single and newly free. It was an exciting and liberating time. Though, it also made me realize that I had been starved for physical contact.

Hug Hunger?

While there were many memorable experiences that I will never forget while dating during my first “year of freedom,” one of the most enlightening parts was receiving a hug at the end of the night after my first date. I remember how amazing it felt when she embraced me and squeezed me tight. What I didn’t realize until that very moment, was that I had been starved for human touch.

When I was under my previous partner’s control, I had been systematically isolated from friends and my support network. That control, and the devolution of my relationship, left me touch deprived.

I also realized that physical contact in other forms — not just intimate relationships — are also essential, like hugs from friends. Heck, I’d even take a high five right now.

What to Do

If you are living with a partner or if you have kids or pets, do make sure you get some hugs and snuggles in. If you live alone, go ahead and do the things that bring you comfort.

Self care is also imperative. Make sure you are taking care of your needs and your body. Indulge in a long, hot bath. Use that face mask in the back of your cabinet or make a homemade one. You can also do some self massage. Keep your body moving and get some fresh air. It will do wonders.

Moreover, it’s imperative to stay connected to your friends, family, and support network, even if you can’t hug them right now. Emotional support, even if it’s just commiserating over the empty toilet paper shelves at the store, will help regulate stress.

Lots of Longing

After the social distancing ends, I’m sure many people will be touch starved. I know that I’m going to hug all of my friends when I see them.

When we get back to our regular lives, single folks in particular will need to reconnect. In addition to seeing friends and family, people may want to do other activities with physical contact, such as scheduling a massage or hair appointment.

It will also be interesting to see the uptick in Tinder/dating app usage after we’ve all been cooped up.




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