Traffic on roadways and frost on car windshields;
Long lists of presents and maxed out credit cards;
Brown paper packages delivered late; these are a few of my least favorite things.
The holidays can bring joy, love, and excitement into our lives, but can also bring a great amount of stress. Some stress is good for us, particularly in life or death situations, but when we feel stressed over a long period of time it can take its toll on our body and mind.
The stress we experience from day to day can bring headaches, sleeplessness, anger, and irritability. Over time chronic stress can have an even greater impact on our health, leading to depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and anxiety disorder.
Believe it or not, all of this can be remedied by something as simple as a human touch.
Food vs. Comfort
In the early 1950’s, American psychologist Harry Harlow studied the importance of touch by controversially experimenting with baby monkeys. He raised these monkeys in isolated cages that contained two surrogate “mothers”- one made of metal wire and the other wrapped in terrycloth.
The wire mother provided a bottle with food, but when the baby monkeys were frightened they would cling to the mother wrapped in terrycloth, even if it meant becoming dehydrated and starving to death.
The monkeys were hungry for more than just food; they were literally starving for a warm, comforting touch.
With these studies, Harlow was the first to show that intimate body contact was the most important factor in creating a bond between mother and child.
The Benefits of A Warm, Comforting Touch
Touch therapy, or massage therapy, is not just good for our muscles; it’s good for our entire physical and mental well-being. Research shows that a single touch can help reduce anxiety and stress, and it can also help us to feel more secure, safe, and less alone.
When you stimulate pressure receptors in the skin you actually lower stress hormones like cortisol and release the “love hormone” called oxytocin, according to research conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. This powerful hormone can enhance a sense of trust and even reduce discomfort of everyday stressors like family turmoil or conflict at work.
The deep sense of relief we feel when we are touched may also explain why we touch ourselves so much.
Before you get any funny ideas, the Greater Good Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, found that we caress ourselves hundreds of times a day by rubbing our hands, stroking our necks, or massaging our foreheads. Evidence supports the idea that self-massage slows the heart rate and lowers our cortisol levels.
These habitual behaviors are more than just nervous tics, and the benefits of touch are more than skin deep.
The Healing Power of Touch
If practiced properly, touch therapies have the potential to transform the practice of medicine, and they’re cost effective too!
Many of us know massage therapy is successful in treating chronic back and neck pain, but studies also show that touching people with Alzheimer’s can help them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and even reduce their symptoms of depression.
In addition to the numerous psychological benefits of touch, the Touch Research Institute found that human touch helps to lessen pain, improve pulmonary function, increase growth in premature infants, lower blood glucose levels, and even improve the immune system.
Imagine prescribing a hug or gentle massage instead of relying on medicine to alleviate stress. If we can improve our mental and physical well-being by reducing stress in our lives, and if we feel less stressed when we feel the touch of another human being, then we must make it a priority to incorporate this kind of therapy into our daily routines. The holidays usually revolve around giving to others and making them feel special, but maybe this year instead of giving an expensive item you could give a meaningful, healing, and therapeutic touch.
If you have any questions about massage therapy, or if you have personally benefited from a touch or hug, please share your stories and questions with us in the comment section below.
We wish you a merry and stress free holiday season!