I never thought about the importance of human touch as much as now during the social distancing of Covid19. Not during my times as single or when I went through my separation 8 years ago. That was the beautiful hot summer of 2012, and all I could see was love everywhere. Carrick was celebrating its 400 years, and a mighty party was put on for the town, a carnival that lasted two weeks in the glory of 20+ degrees and bathed in what seemed eternal sunshine. There was skin to be seen, a lot of affection displayed during that summer, the world and its people moved outdoors, young love kissing in the archways of the town or holding each other on the jetty by the river. To see this made my heart sing. I wasn’t in the market for the same, separating from the father of your children is traumatic after all, but I knew there was going to be life after, and seeing joyful love so openly displayed was just a manifestation of the universal love around us all. Those 8 years ago builders sometimes flirtingly smiled and nodded when I zipped downtown on my snazzy city bike, and I would tilt back my head in joy and laugh at the sky, while the warm summer wind tugged at my clothes and skin. There was a promise in there somewhere, those smiles meant that life would go on, that love is crucial to our existence, and that human touch will be part of my life again one day too.
I am and always was more of a ‘touchy-feely’, I LOVE hugs, or leaning onto a friend while chatting, and there’s nothing like a pat on the back or the loving reassurance of a touch on your arm or shoulder. When we look at what scientifically happens during human touch, this all makes sense. Any warm embrace increases oxytocin levels in the brain. Oxytocin has been labelled ‘the love drug’ as it is responsible for many the aspects of social bonding and pleasure. All situations that make us feel safe, happy and connected tend to cause the release of several “feel-good-hormones,” including oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Oxytocin, like endorphins means the opposite to our “fight or flight” response. Higher levels of it are linked to feeling calmer and being more resilient to stress. New research suggests that increased oxytocin can potentially also increase feelings of generosity, forgiveness, trustworthiness, joy and security. It also lowers blood pressure and according to conventional medicine it may decrease a person’s risk for heart disease.
So yes, this brings me back to Covid19, social distancing, lockdown or cocooning, however we label our daily situation for now. I am blessed to live in the very wide countryside of the Irish West, and lock down is easily done without feeling locked in. The loop around my beautiful town is freely walkable under current regulations, and there is a small patch of grass at our front door too. Enough space to smell the roses, practise some funky skateboard moves or sit quietly with a cup of coffee and listen to the birds. My clinic is open and available online for revising treatment plans remotely via Skype or WhatsApp, and until we can go back to hands on treatments I am using the bit of extra time to catch up on myself and the place, and what I love most: to study my head off and learn even more about the biochemical mysteries of the human body. So mental vibrations are high and strong, having looked after all my loved ones for getting the immune system fit, and doing the same for every client who needs advice and help. But the whole human touch thing does leave a mark. Personally, I am missing that pat on the back, the huddling onto a friend chatting the night away, the handshake at being introduced to someone new, the small touch on your arm as a sign of affection. The occasional client who spontaneously hugs me at the door just because they feel light and free after treatment.
If you don’t live with a loved one, or the marital bed is not a happy and healthy one, chances are you did not pat someone’s back or get a handshake for some weeks now. No ‘spur-of-the-moment-hug’ from a friend you helped. With the benefits of human touch being so numerous, the absence of it must be somewhat detrimental to our health too. Most of us are staying virtually connected possibly more than ever with the world now, chatting with colleagues, family and friends daily. Some of us network stronger than ever now, building our businesses through this pandemic to come out of it robust and healthy. These weeks are a rare opportunity to do so. This period challenges our thinking and can open doors into the future which will be our reality on the other side of all this. Meeting all my people and tribe on Zoom now is a mighty tool for maintaining our connection. Yet, when you take away the element of touch it is almost difficult to say goodbye after a call, even when all is said and done. You hang on for something non-tangible, you wave your goodbyes, trying to compensate for what is missing without the extra layer of touch. Touch does not need words but is merely another layer of affirming ‘I like you’, ‘I trust you’, or ‘I am here’. In the last four weeks I have seen more faces on my laptop screen than ever before, but direct human contact outside my house came down to three people, it being the ‘bumping into’ friends on my weekly shopping task. The rolled down car window and socially distant chat made my world that morning even though there was no hello-hug or a brushing your hand against the others’ arm for affection. Being able to hug is our way to feel good, as endorphins are being released in both people. Neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, in Richmond, Virginia explains: “A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward centre in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the toucher or touched. The more you connect with others — on even the smallest physical level — the happier you’ll be.” This makes for win-win in my book for sure.
So where does it leave us now? There are promises of bear hugs going around everywhere. Even my very professional BNI business meeting guys are talking about the shared pint and a hug after all this has passed. Maybe we will value the small gestures much more from now. Maybe we will be able to hold on to the knowledge that a hug can be given freely and extended to the world rather than to the one person in your life only. Maybe we all will put the phones and gadgets down when we are on the other side of this pandemic, and really look into each other’s eyes when we share a chat and coffee. I most certainly will have had my portion of virtual learning and connecting by the end of this phase, and I will want to connect in the real world more than ever. I will revel in live meetings and workshops with fellow humans right beside me in the room, and where the element of touch can be part of daily life again.
Saying all this, I am more than blessed to live full-time with my children through the extraordinary and surreal times of this pandemic. Usually the gang spends 40% of their time with dad and that is a wonderfully fair thing, but right now dad deems the kids better kept under my roof until the storm passes. I welcome the change and opportunities this brings and we are a happy bunch all under one roof. After three weeks of isolating we are pretty sure none of us ‘has the virus’. Between ourselves we snuggle and cuddle as before. I am blessed in a home filled with people who love each other. We all hang out on the one sofa to watch an episode, we keep stealing ‘the good chair’ from one another the minute someone gets up from it so we can slide in, we learn skateboarding in the hallway and bump into each other there. All this softens the blow of missing human touch immensely.
If you don’t have a great gang living with you, you may miss the physical connect even more right now. Personally, I tend to go out into nature when feeling alone, watch plants emerge from heavy winter soil, and plant tender seedlings to nurture new life. I walk the loop with my famous blue earphones on, connect to the music and stride the cobwebs away. I have a hot bath and cherish the water cocoon until my feet and hands shrivel – but I have been a water babe all my life, so this floats my boat.
I guess the secret is to find what floats your own boat, what really feeds your soul, now that we are stripped of the things we know and took for granted, while human touch is reduced to the future, and it is uncertain when this future starts again.
To connect with what we are here for, to allow an empty space for tapping into our own creativity again. To connect with the basics of nourishing food, to make your own, to go back to granny’s recipe and build something from scratch. To smell the roses and forget-me-nots. To watch the ripples of water widening. To help somebody in need, however small of an action that might be right now. To pick up the phone and connect with those we love but didn’t always take the time. To say sorry to the person we’ve done wrong, and to ourselves. To look at the bigger picture and let a new vision emerge. To get outside the restricting box and experience something unexpected. To feed my own soul, I am exploring Ho’oponopono – the Hawaiian art of forgiving, I have re-potted my neglected house plants, and I started journaling again. Sometimes in solitude exists an answer we couldn’t grasp all along.
Also, I am a fan of Sadhguru, as he has an effective way of showing us the opportunities that lie in these times without belittling the pain and grief and fear that comes with Covid19 too.
I am finishing with two of his quotes as I am having trouble finding an end to my musings anyway, so am sharing these words of the master himself, and the love that he holds for life itself.
We will come out the other side of this, and this can be our chance to become stronger. We may not rebuild the fastness of our lives which left no space for boredom to birth new creativity or a quiet sweet nothingness where we just hold another’s hand.
For now, we need to cocoon our most vulnerable people, and we need to keep our own vibrations high and our health and immune system at its best. We need to check in on each other, drop our judgements and start listening to what is really going on for people right now.
If you have questions on how be your strongest during this time give me a call as I am offering free advice on how to help your immune system and/or mental health according to your individual medical history and symptoms. Some people ring for the chat also when they feel a bit down, I will do my best to share some of the light with you too.