T is for Touch

Tracy Lee Karner photo
Reach out and touch!

This series is an alphabetical exploration of 26 options for living well, despite everything. It answers the question–How can we live well, despite problems? 
Scientists have identified a hormone called oxytocin (sometimes called the love hormone), which is released by affectionate touch.
Here is real, immediate help for living well, despite everything! Oxytocin:

  • Lowers blood pressure;
  • Decreases the body’s stress hormones;
  • Increases our ability to tolerate pain;
  • Makes us feel more trusting and connected;
  • And it’s free for the taking.

Interestingly, people get the same surge of love hormone whether they are the initiators or receivers of physical affection.
Physical affection is sweet and pleasant. it activates the same area of the brain–the orbital frontal cortex, as chocolate (with fewer calories!)
I don’t need a PhD in psychology to figure out ways to boost my daily oxytocin. A baby knows–she cries to be held. She pats, kisses, climbs all over people and snuggles into laps.
So I will reach out, today and everyday, and especially when I’m feeling low or blue,
I will:

  • Give a hug;
  • Hold a hand;
  • Pat a back;
  • Link arms;
  • Bump fists!

To touch is to thrive.
Live well, my friends! Reach out and touch someone!
What’s your favorite way to increase feelings of trust and connection? 

23 thoughts on “T is for Touch”

  1. (looking around for my first victim… ahem beneficiary of my touch)
    Great post Tracy. My first root canal, I was a nervous wreck. The dentist prescribed valium, one before bed the night before, and one a half hour before my appointment. Although, I was calmer, I was still stressing. Once in the chair, the dental assistant, put her hand on my shoulder, smiled and said, “everything’s going to be ok.” I immediately relaxed. <3
    Diana xo

  2. As teachers, we had to renew our First Aid Certification every three years, Tracy. In all the years I was teaching, only one emergency instructor gave this advice on touching: if there is an accident, an illness, a wound, and you’re waiting for medics to arrive, it is always better to reach out and connect with the victim instead of sitting and just waiting or talking to others.
    Touch the shoulder, the hand, even the foot, and maintain that light, constant touch until help comes. If you can also speak calmly, softly, reassuringly about anything IN ADDITION TO THE TOUCH, all the better. But it is the continued touch that makes all the difference: we thrive better by connection.

    1. That’s such good advice, Marylin. Isn’t it interesting, that only one instructor gave it?
      It seems so instinctual to me, to touch someone who is in pain or frightened — but then, becoming “cultured” is often a process of teaching us to subdue our instincts and act with decorum/politeness. Sometimes that’s good, for example when we subdue outbursts of anger, or the impetus to grab the largest slice of pie for ourselves. But sometimes our sense of “what will people think?” can get in the way of being helpful.
      It really does come down to — treat people the way you want to be treated. Of course, that supposes a person has the imagination to feel and empathize with someone else’s situation….

  3. I’ve been finding that this simple thing – touch – is much more effective than any ‘therapy’ in the dementia house where I work. Brilliant post.

    1. Thanks, Julie! I’m planning on putting these “wellness” posts (along with others I haven’t published) together into a book. In the meanwhile, they are good reminders for me, especially on the mornings when I’m in so much pain I don’t want to get out of bed (this morning, for example!)
      I think it’s generally true, that the most vulnerable people (children, the sick, and elderly) are the ones who crave the most loving affection. Without it, nothing else really matters.

    1. My sentiments, exactly, B. (about it being hard to believe how time flies!) When I started with A, it felt like the alphabet was sooooo long, I’d never finish. U-V-W-X-Y-Z.
      only 6 more posts!

  4. Beautiful in your understated and passionate way, Tracy. Thank you. Grandchildren have re-ignited my need to give and receive touch. They also teach me how important it is for everyone. Then I am sad when I think about those children who don’t get it.

    1. Thank you, Shirley. I appreciate the compliment, as I’ve been feeling a little defeated by a problem with my novel, feeling like I”m not competent enough to do it justice. You’ve given me a boost of confidence to just be patient and keep untangling until I get all the knots out.
      And yes–grandchildren serve to make me more aware, too. Somehow I’m able to think larger (in a more socially conscious way) about children and childhood with my grandchildren than with I had been able to with my children.
      It is so heartbreaking, that some children don’t receive what they need. I tried to be a social worker, because I cared so much — but it was too depressing for me. I was never able to let go of all the sad stories. I do admire the people who are tough enough to help without letting other people’s problems destroy their own peace of mind. I don’t know how they do it!

  5. It is interesting that when touch left me (by my husband leaving me) I grew attached to a soft blanket that I wrapped around me at night and held against my face. I understand now while young children grow attached to their comforters and teddies.

    1. That is interesting — I wonder whether any nursing homes and hospitals have paid any attention to this lifelong need of ours?
      It suddenly strikes me that it’s no coincidence, that we call them comforters.

      1. So true … I remember so well, when my daughter would cry for the two hours that it would take me to wash and dry her precious blanket … then she would be calm. No, I do not think that it hits home how much touch means to people.

  6. Many years ago, my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I was stressed. I will never forget the nurse who gave me comforting words and a kindly touch. It really eased my stress.
    Tonight, at dinner, a former co-worker came over to our table to wish me well. We held hands throughout our conversation. It was so nice of her to stop by and say ‘hello.’ The power of words … or a comforting touch … mean so much. 😉

  7. They do say that one of the loneliest things about getting older can be when there is nobody left just to give you a simple touch – as you say a held hand or something simple like that. My family were never physically demonstrative, so it’s not something that used to feel natural to me, but great friends encouraged the habit of hugs and the like 🙂

    1. I always felt weird about touching, because my family was also not touchy. There are a few people I touch regularly without feeling creepy, and I’m “hugger” than I used to be.
      Yes, I think that the loneliness of aging is often that the people who touched you, are often gone.

  8. Karin Van den Bergh

    Hmm..Touch. It can be so simple, like holding hands, yet so powerful. Stroking my hair would calm me down as well.

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