You are here: Home > Health Articles > Healthy Living > Touch Benefits

The Healing and Strengthening Power of Touch

Note from Carolyn:
Touching is a lesson I learned a long time ago. Between romantically involved couples touching increases the erotic hormones. Our youth pastor therefore warned us not to indulge in a lot of touching before marriage. After the wedding ceremony touching is one of the things that keeps the romance alive. Don’t pass by your spouse without touching them in some way. Our elderly, especially those living alone, are often suffering from a lack of touch. Some of them rarely see or even talk to another person throughout their normal day. Those that do have caregivers coming in may still need to fill their touch quotient. Caregivers are sometimes being taught not to touch for fear of being accused of inappropriate touching. That is what is happening with people that work with children. I pity the child whose parents are not ‘touchers’. In today’s world they may not thrive, because there are very few places where they can get appropriate touching. I have heard many people advocate not hugging anyone other than your immediate family. I think there are ways to give a hug that is perfectly acceptable and not sexual in any way. Withholding touching can be associated with withholding a kind word. Do we really want to live in a world like that?
Connecting emotionally is also very important. In today’s world couples with children and careers rarely get an opportunity to unwind, much less communicate on a deeper level. As young parents another pastor advocated that every couple, with or without children, have a date night. This could consist of everything from going out for a cup of coffee (or tea) to a full fledge dinner and a movie. It had to include at least half an hour of sitting across a table talking. There were rules around the talking. Everything had to be said from the speaker’s perspective. ‘I felt’ rather than ‘you did’ statements. The listener could not interrupt the speaker. When the speaker was finished the listener was to tell the speaker what they heard the speaker to say. Once both people understood the issue the listener could then respond. Then it was the other person’s turn to be the speaker. We didn’t always make the once a week when we had kids at home. We also didn’t always follow the format, but at least we had guidelines we could strive for.
Now at 33 years of marriage people think we are ‘cute’ for holding hands as we walk. We also prefer each other’s company to anyone else’s. Someone the other day described our marriage as ‘a match made in heaven’. I wouldn’t say that. We have had our ups and downs, but we have applied the principles of physical and emotional touching along the way.
Article continues ...
The power of touch is displayed perhaps no more poignantly than during the first few months of life. Babies who are not hugged and held during these first months will not thrive and grow like their cuddled peers. In fact, a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that infants who were held, snuggled and touched had better mental and motor skills than those who were not.

Physical touch is so important that the Medical Center actively recruits volunteer “cuddlers” to help give the up to 700 critically ill newborns in their care each year regular hugs and snuggles.

"We know the importance of tactile stimulation to an infant's overall health and well-being," Dr. Robert Kimura, chair of neonatology, told the Los Angeles Times. "These folks are invaluable members of the healthcare team."

But we need physical touch not only as babies; we also need it as adults. Studies have shown that therapeutic touch benefits adults in the following ways:

  • Reduces stress (touching releases two feel-good brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine)

  • Lessens pain

  • Reduces symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as restlessness, pacing, vocalization, searching and tapping

One study even found that women’s anxiety about potentially receiving a mild electric shock diminished significantly when they touched their husband’s hand, and also lessened to some degree by touching a stranger’s hand.

Touch is a Powerful Form of Communication, Stress Relief

A pat on the arm or a high-five can sometimes express far more than words. According to Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, touch is actually “our richest means of emotional expression.”

As the New York Times recently reported, even brief episodes of touch can communicate a wide variety of powerful emotions, emotions that have a significant impact on other people. For instance:

  • Students whose teacher gave them a supportive touch on the back or arm were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class.

  • A sympathetic touch from a doctor gives patients the impression that their appointment lasted twice as long.

  • A massage from a loved one can ease pain and depression while strengthening your relationship.

Research by psychologist Dr. Karen Grewen also found that hugging and handholding reduces the effects of stress. Two groups of couples were asked to talk about an angry event, but one group had previously held hands and hugged, while the others sat alone. It was found that:

Holding hands with your spouse can make your stress melt away almost instantly.  

Compassion prevails when truly literally in-touch.

  • Blood pressure increased significantly more among the no-contact group as compared to the huggers.

  • Heart rate among those without contact increased 10 beats a minute, compared to five beats a minute for huggers.

What's more, Grewen suggests that warm contact such as hugs and handholding before the start of a rough day "could carry over and protect you throughout the day."

What are Some Ways to Benefit from Touch?

One of the simplest ways is to hold hands with your spouse, hug your friend or neighbor, and be generous with pats on the back, high-fives, fist bumps and other forms of physical communication.

You can also get a massage, either from a loved one or a professional massage therapist. Massage therapy decreases stress hormones in your body and, according to the Touch Research Institute:

  • Facilitates weight gain in preterm infants

  • Enhances attentiveness

  • Alleviates depressive symptoms

  • Reduces pain

  • Reduces stress hormones

  • Improves immune function

Getting regular massages is a simple way to take advantage of the healing power of touch.

Another great way to experience the profound benefits of touch is with Reiki, a gentle, hands-on healing technique that originated in Japan. This ancient form of energy healing is based on the idea that we all have an invisible "life force energy" (or Ki) that flows through our bodies and causes us to be alive.

This energy, however, is often disrupted by our own negative thoughts and feelings (both conscious and unconscious ones). If your Ki becomes too low, you are at an increased risk of becoming stressed out, sick, tired and unhappy.

During Reiki, a practitioner channels the healing energy through their hands and into the client.

The energy naturally flows where the negative thoughts and feelings are attached, thereby clearing any blockages and restoring a normal flow of energy. In other words, Reiki clears and heals the clouded energy pathways and allows the life force to flow through again.

Staying “in Touch” Mentally is Important Too

Physical touch is incredibly important, but it’s also beneficial to stay mentally in touch with those around you as well. So often we remain isolated, even as we’re surrounded by countless people each day. Reaching out with a smile, friendly hello and deeper, meaningful conversations will add much fulfillment to your life.

If you find it difficult to stay in touch with those around you, including your friends and family, don’t be hesitant to take advantage of technology. You use Skype to reconnect with loved ones all over the world, for instance, or send photos back and forth to share even while you’re apart.

And while you’re together, engage in meaningful activities that can strengthen your emotional bond while enhancing your health as well, such as taking walks and exercising together.

Also take advantage of meal times, rides in the car, even trips to the grocery store to catch up and share the little details of your day with one another. You may also benefit immensely by setting aside time each week specifically to chat with your significant other.

As Dr. Peter Reznik, a mind/body integrative therapist and creator of the highly praised How to Stay Healthy in a Stressful World CD, states:

“One of the ways to help your romantic relationship thrive is to have regular "state of the union" dialogues. That is, once a week create a special time (it may be only 10-15 minutes), during which you sit in front of each other and ask questions like "Where are we as a couple?" and "Has there being anything that we must discuss?"

If one or both of the partners has grievances the other is not to explain why they did what they did, unless they are specifically asked, but to say, "I am sorry this {whatever the problem is} made you feel uncomfortable, what can I do to make things better for you?"

A "state of the union" discussion will be most fruitful when sharing statements are used, as opposed to accusations.”

You can adjust this exercise to use with your children, parents, siblings and close friends as well, and use it regularly to stay in touch with those around you.

Ideally, you’ll embrace a combination of physical touch and mental closeness with those in your life. This will lead to more fulfilling relationships and closeness in your personal ties that makes life worth living!

Did you know that ...

French couples spend three times more time touching than American couples. So what are we waiting for? Grab your partner, friend or family member and give them a big hug today … tomorrow … and even twice or more a day or more!

Of course we are also advocates of holding hands in public, known by many as PDA (Public Display of Affection) -- especially those married for 10 years or more.

Go for it … and Enjoy Life that Much More … Every Day!

Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of the author(s). Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of the authors. You are encouraged to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.