The emotional benefits of touch
In counselling, we work more implicitly with the body - touch isn't involved, although we still consider mindbodyspirit as an integrated system, and be aware of the clues our body gives us as to our emotional state. Historically, we have tended towards a false disconnection between our body, mind and spirit, but we don't carry our emotions round in a little bag - emotions are held in our bodies, as well as our hearts and mind, and they can be released through our bodies as well.
It's important to maintain safety and boundaries and so, in counselling, we incorporate the body through awareness - how your emotions might be manifesting in your body; how we can look after your body to improve your emotional and mental health; using awareness and self-compassion to enjoy a good, connected relationship with yourself. We can also use mindfulness body exercises to connect more with ourselves, and make connections between your emotions and physical sensations.
Of course, what is missing then is the element of touch, which is a potent way of connecting with both ourselves and with other people. From our infancy, we need touch to thrive; it is vital for healthy human development. Skin to skin contact, breastfeeding and babywearing have all been shown to have multiple benefits in supporting a good attachment, and are all linked to improved physical, emotional and mental health. Touch releases oxytocin, the hormone of closeness and connection, and generally generates a feeling of trust, calm and safety - as important a feeling in adulthood as it is in infancy and childhood.
As adults, we still need touch; specifically, consensual non-sexual human touch, to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves and the world. In a world increasingly focused on technology and individualist pursuits, we need to make sure we get our quota. A hug with a family member, a loving kiss with a partner, or a friendly pat on the back - these are all ways in which we can harness the power of touch for a little boost to our general wellbeing. There is direct evidence to show that oxytocin release helps provide immunity against depression, anxiety and stress. As I say about counselling, we heal in connection with others.
Touch can be a powerful way of re-establishing a sense of calm and comfort within ourselves, and incorporating consensual, non-sexual touch into our self care routine can be helpful. Snuggling with loved ones whilst watching a film, brushing a friend's arm in conversation, or finding a trusted bodyworker, such as a massage therapist or osteopath, are all ways to include touch into our routine. And animals count as well - contact with animals has huge therapeutic benefit! Even something as simple as ensuring our clothes are comfortable can have a great impact on our sense of wellbeing - restrictive collars, tight waistbands, and synthetic non-breathable fabric can all impact our sense of calm. Feeling the breeze or sunlight on bare skin can have significant holistic benefits.
It's important to recognise our own limitations, and to keep ourselves safe, particularly when we may have previously received unwelcome or unsafe touch in the past, and of course there is no one-size-fits-all rule to how much touch we need. Consent is vital, and respecting other people's physical boundaries is important. Similarly, knowing our own physical boundaries is important. Touch can be triggering for some people, and for some people it's simply not enjoyable; in those instances, other way of connecting may feel more appropriate. Even for those who are comfortable with touch, we must recognise the powerful effect of this form of contact. In recognising the importance of physical contact, we must also recognise its power; intimate physical contact, such as massage or osteopathy, or even sex, can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed and at those times we need to take care of ourselves and take it easy - give yourself a little time and space before any physical or emotional heavy lifting.
If you are find physical intimacy stressful or overwhelming, and you believe that counselling might help, do please contact me on 07419 190930 or firstname.lastname@example.org. It may also be beneficial to discuss touch aversion with a GP, who would be able to rule out any medical cause.