Man and a woman hugging on the street.

We all crave connection. But connection isn’t just about emotional intimacy; it’s also deeply physical. Human touch is a powerful sense, and a lack of it can have significant consequences for our well-being.

This absence of physical touch is known as touch deprivation, or “skin hunger”, and it’s a more common experience than you might think.

A colleague of mine once told me that you need at least seven hugs per day to get enough human touch. This encouraged me to explore the topic of touch deprivation in greater detail, which I will try to do in this article.

Why We Need Touch

Physical touch is essential for healthy development from a very young age. Studies have shown that infants who are deprived of touch can experience growth delays and developmental problems. 

Touch helps regulate our nervous system, promoting feelings of calmness and security.  It also releases oxytocin, a hormone known to reduce stress and anxiety while promoting feelings of love and bonding[1]. We see that skin contact is not only beneficial but crucial for our physical and mental stimulation.

As adults, touch continues to play an important part in our emotional and physical health.  Physical touch can:

  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Holding hands with a loved one or receiving a hug can demonstrably lower blood pressure and heart rate, promoting relaxation and easing anxious feelings. That’s why some people say being with their loved ones is like a safe haven.
  • Boost Immune System: Studies suggest that regular positive touch can strengthen the immune system, making us less susceptible to illness.
  • Improve Mood: The sense of connection and support fostered by touch can significantly elevate mood and create a more positive outlook.
  • Enhance Well-being and Happiness: The collection of these benefits – stress reduction, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and improved mood – contributes to a greater sense of well-being and overall happiness.

Signs of Touch Deprivation

So, how do you know if you’re suffering from touch deprivation? The signs can be subtle, but some common ones include:

  • Increased feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased stress and tension
  • Craving physical affection

Believe me, as someone who has been living alone for the past three years, I can relate to most of these points. The sad reality of loneliness kicks in unexpectedly, yet it makes you crave for comfort via touch which is not so easily accessible.

Causes of Touch Deprivation

Touch deprivation can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Living Alone: Individuals living alone, especially older adults, may experience a lack of regular physical touch. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and decreased well-being. As I have mentioned before, I know personally what it’s like.
  • Few Close Relationships: This can be particularly challenging for people who are shy or have difficulty forming close bonds.
  • Fear of Intimacy: Some individuals may have a deep-seated fear of intimacy, stemming from past experiences or emotional baggage.
  • Cultural Norms: Certain cultures discourage physical touch outside of immediate family.
  • Recent Events: Breakups or the loss of a loved one can create a temporary state of touch deprivation. The grief and disruption of social interactions can leave a significant void in one’s need for physical connection.

Coping with Touch Deprivation

If you suspect you’re experiencing touch deprivation, there are steps you can take to increase positive impact of touch in your life. Here are a few ideas:

  • Seek out healthy physical touch: This can include hugs, cuddles, handshakes, pats on the back, or even a massage from a professional therapist.
  • Spend time with loved ones: Physical closeness with friends and family can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Consider getting a pet: Owning a pet can provide a source of unconditional love and comforting touch.
  • Practice self-care: Activities like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can all improve your mood.
  • Explore alternative forms of touch: This could include getting your hair styled, or even something as simple as taking a warm bath. I do recommend getting a scalp massage, it will not only create a tingle in your brain, but will also provide you with a feeling of being pampered.
  • Focus on positive touch experiences: When you do have a positive touch experience, savor it and appreciate the feeling. I know, times can be tough, but a bit of daydreaming can help you relive some of the most precious moments.

It’s Important to Set Boundaries

While touch is essential, it’s important to remember that everyone has different comfort levels. It’s crucial to be respectful of other people’s boundaries and communicate your own needs clearly.

Building a Culture of Healthy Touch

Touch deprivation can be a significant issue, but by increasing awareness and promoting healthy forms of physical connection, we can create a culture that supports our emotional and physical well-being.

By understanding the importance of touch and taking steps to increase positive physical connection in our lives, we can all reap the benefits of this essential human need. Remember, a simple hug or handshake can go a long way in promoting feelings of well-being and connection.

[1] Uvnäs‐Moberg, K., Handlin, L., & Petersson, M. (2015). Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

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Greta holds a BA in English Literature and is currently working as a Copywriter for a tech company in Vilnius, Lithuania.