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Physical touch deprivation and ways to cope

One of the first things we lost when the pandemic of 2020 rippled across our communities is safe physical touch. Lack of hugging people tops my list in terms of touch deprivation difficulty. I miss the hello and goodbye hugs, the embrace we automatically gave one another in challenging times.


Touch is a master sense in our bodies and a core need for our physical and emotional well-being. Our skin receptors elicit an emotional response that is stronger than verbal or emotional connection because have a specific set of nerves to discriminate and process social and emotional touch 1. So much communication happens through our touch. It’s the first sense we develop starting in the womb and shapes our brain development as babies. Touch is also the last sense we lose before we pass away.


Touch is often the most neglected need, especially in low touch cultures like the United States. So, the current isolation and lack of safe physical touch has exacerbated the phenomenon known as skin hunger.


“Being touch starved — also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation — occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things.” 2


What can help? Although there is no substitution for safe human touch, here are some simple ways we can cope:


  • Sleep with a weighted blanket

  • Self Care - (what you’re already doing that makes you feel care: eating healthfully, staying hydrated, moving your body, setting goals for the future, etc.)

  • Self Massage - including sweeping and tapping motions

  • Dry Brushing

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Journaling

  • Sharing your difficulty with a trusted friend or loved one

  • If you have anyone in your household that can exchange safe touch with you, talk to them about the need for more physical interaction and ask for what you need

  • Pay attention to different textures around you and rotate some new ones in. Think about: furry, soft, bristles, smooth, foamy, and rough surfaces. Maybe make yourself a new bath scrub, take a foamy bubble bath or use an acupressure mat

  • Spend time with your pet if you have one

  • Last but not least, book a massage with someone who is following strict protocols and has high standards.


Small things add up by the end of the day. Maybe you only have 2 minutes to apply shampoo in your hair in the shower, so you could give yourself a scalp massage when you are doing that.If you don’t have the patience to do a full body self massage, you might start with applying some lotion to your feet for 60 seconds.


Looking into the future, when the hugs become less risky, we may have a hesitant approach to touching again. It might take us longer to reach out physically. Not everyone will be vaccinated based on their personal belief systems. Young children are being taught to stay away from anyone outside their household (for good reason). These habits we are developing and teaching our children are going to take time to unravel and understand for long term physical and mental health.


For now, massage is still accessible in Oregon for those who are able to follow state mandated protocols. Therapists who are practicing have been able to provide care in safe as possible environments and the virus isn’t currently being traced back to personal care providers. When you are ready and if you are inclined to, reach out to your favorite therapist and see if they are practicing -and- find out what precautions they are taking.


Whatever you decide to do, please remember you matter. You deserve the best care, the highest standards of cleanliness and loving interactions. May all the people you care about benefit from the care you take of yourself.

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