All We Have Is Each Other, Mickey Z's Blog

I haven’t been touched in more than 2 months… | Mickey Z. — World News Trust

By Mickey Z.
World News Trust
May 16th, 2020

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Note: Please click on all the hyperlinks.

On Sunday, March 8, as I was leaving a personal training client’s home, she gave me a hug. Four days later, I had a dental appointment that ended with a quick elbow bump between myself and my dentist. 

Then, in a flash, everything changed — especially in my hometown of New York City. I live alone in the era of social distancing. Hence, I haven’t been touched since.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful that (so far) I’ve remained healthy and (relatively) stable in financial terms. But that doesn’t change the fact that I — like all of us — require something we may have been taking for granted: human touch. With this basic need being denied during the pandemic, we may be creating a ticking global time bomb of mental health issues.

Physical Touch 101

Whenever you’re touched by someone you trust, this welcome physical contact activates pressure receptors below the skin — thus setting off an incredible, healing process. Your Pacinian corpuscles send a message to your vagus nerve which, in turn, slows down your nervous system by:

  • Lowering your blood pressure and heart rate 
  • Decreasing the level of stress hormones like cortisol
Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

The more you hug, the more hands you hold, the more snuggles you enjoy, the less of a threat cortisol plays in your body. Under normal circumstances, cortisol serves as your body’s alarm — ever ready to launch you into fight-or-flight mode when real or perceived danger is present. Thanks to this stress hormone, you will temporarily experience a burst of energy, enhanced memory, increased immunity, and a higher pain threshold. All this is obviously a good thing… except in instances of chronic stress.

Chronic stress = chronic cortisol. The negative outcomes of this equation include dangerously impaired cognitive performance and troubling physical symptoms like:

  • Decreased muscle tissue and bone density
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Compromised immune functions
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Increased abdominal fat which may lead to heart attacks, strokes, and more

Human touch counters all of the above while simultaneously increasing the presence of what has been labeled the “cuddle hormone”: a neuropeptide called oxytocin.

“Oxytocin basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding,” explains Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist. “It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.” From this foundation grows trust, compassion, positive thinking, and an optimistic outlook.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Research shows that human touch nurtures human health by facilitating increases in:

  • The number of the natural “killer cells” that enable immune function and attack viral, bacterial, and cancer cells
  • Healthy sleep patterns
  • Pain resistance
  • Trust and compassion
  • Learning engagement 
  • Teamwork
  • Peaceful resolution of problems and differences 
  • Non-sexual intimacy

Conversely, touch deprivation often results in higher levels of:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Stress 
  • Fear of attachment 
  • Aggression
  • Loneliness

Which brings us to…

Making Due During Social Distancing 

What can we do in an age when close contact is seen as potentially lethal and possibly illegal? How does someone like me, who lives alone, get a daily fix of oxytocin? 

Good news: Self-touch may activate some of the same soothing processes as being touched by others. Plus, if you’re fortunate to share your home with an animal companion, there are many benefits to be gained from cuddling with a dog or cat (for everyone involved).

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Beyond self-touch and pets, you can try replicating the positive effects of physical touch by focusing on your other senses, e.g.

  1. The Value of Keepsakes: Any item that evokes the presence of a loved one should be touched and/or placed in your daily line of sight. It may be a photo, an article of clothing, or any other memento representative of your deep connection. Think of it as a version of keeping someone’s photo in your wallet or on your desk at work.
  2. Memory Visualization: If you’re without any keepsakes on hand, you may choose to rely on visualization. Get in touch with a positive pre-Covid memory with a loved one, meditate upon it, and bring all your senses to a state of awareness and gratitude. Sink into the visualized memory and re-live the pleasure it gave you — and can still give you.
  3. Sensory Self-Care: Examples include taking long baths or showers, starting a stretching regimen, self-massage, and wearing comfortable clothing. Also, make it a daily practice to actively discover and appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells within your immediate surroundings. 
  4. Weighted Blanket: I can personally vouch for the calming effect of using my 15-pound blanket. The added pressure has been found to activate serotonin and reduce cortisol. On a more abstract but delightful level, it sorta feels like you’re getting a gentle hug all night long.
  5. Phone Calls/Video Chats: You can still connect — and benefit — from the soothing sound of a loved one’s voice. I know phone calls are viewed as archaic in our digital age but things have changed. Go back to the future and schedule regular phone dates until you meet in person again. The video chat platform enhances your bond by adding facial expressions and body language into the healing mix.

Keep Physical Distance, Not Social Distance

If you can get outside for brief walks, remember that anyone you encounter may also be scared, angry, confused, or touch-deprived. Cultivate a sense of community in any way you can. Wave, nod, wish them well, and (as I mentioned in a previous article) let them know you’re smiling — despite your mask. Eye smiles, my friend, are a thing.

The socially distanced connections you foster today just may turn into the hugs of tomorrow. If we can create that future now, in advance, we will all reap the much-needed benefits. Stay safe… but stay connected.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Photo credit: Mickey Z.

Mickey Z. can be found on Instagram here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women – NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word! 

Self-Defense for Radicals: A to Z Guide for Subversive Struggle

Mickey Z. is the founder of Helping Homeless Women – NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City — before, during, and after the pandemic lockdown. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!

Back to Mickey Z’s Author Page