Touch Deprivation: What It Is And Signs You Might Be Touch Starved
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us all what it’s like to be without touch - whether we missed hugging our friends, holding hands with our friends, or kissing our partners. But, what are the effects of being touch deprived for a long period of time, and what should you do if you’re not getting enough touch, even since the pandemic has calmed down?
Experiencing touch deprivation, or what is more commonly known as “touch starvation”, refers to a situation where someone hasn’t had physical contact with other living beings (not just other people) for a prolonged period of time.
Whether you live alone and rarely make physical contact with others or there’s a lack of physical touch in your relationships, being touch deprived is more common than you might think and it has huge impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at exactly why physical touch is so important, the signs that you might be experiencing touch deprivation, and what you can do about it if you are.
What Is Touch Deprivation And Is It The Same For Everyone?
Touch deprivation refers to a situation where you haven’t experienced physical contact with another living being for a prolonged amount of time. However, this looks different for everyone and there’s definitely a touch deprivation scale.
Obviously, if you have not experienced physical contact with another living being for months, you are certainly going to be touch deprived. However, some people may also experience touch deprivation after just a few days without physical contact since they might be more sensitive to the effects of physical touch (both positive and negative).
Although people can definitely survive without physical touch, none of us can truly thrive without it, and there’s scientific reasoning behind why physical touch is so impactful.
Why Is Touch Important?
There’s a myriad of reasons why touch is so important! As human beings, from the moment we are born, we not only crave physical touch, but we expect it.
As a child, physical touch with other living beings helps us to build healthy relationships: when we experience touch as a young child our oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine pathways are stimulated and these help us experience joy, happiness, and reduced anxiety.
Touch also helps us, at any age, to reduce the cortisol levels in our bodies. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” and too much of it can lead to a wide range of both mental and physical problems such as anxiety, insomnia, raised blood pressure, headaches, etc. Touch directly reduces cortisol levels, therefore making it less likely that you’ll experience the negative effects of stress.
Additionally, touch can even support the immune system, reduce heart rate and blood pressure, and boost happy chemicals like the ones mentioned above, such as serotonin and oxytocin.
Therefore, a lack of touch can cause some serious problems since it puts us at risk to be more susceptible to higher stress and anxiety levels, higher blood pressure and heart rate, and may even affect our interpersonal skills.
Types Of Touches Are Not Important: This Isn’t About Sensual Touch
There seems to be a common misconception about touch deprivation - people tend to assume those who are touch deprived haven’t been touched in a sensual way and therefore crave that. However, that’s simply not true!
Whilst there are various types of touches that all have different meanings, and someone who may be missing affection in a relationship might be touch deprived, it’s not about purely sensual touch.
Anyone can experience touch deprivation, even those who don’t long for sensual touch because it’s nothing to do with sex or attraction, it’s to do with being starved of physical touch of any kind.
Additionally, it’s important to note that just because someone may be in a romantic relationship, they may still experience touch deprivation if there’s no longer (or if there never has been) physical intimacy of any kind within the relationship and they’re unable to get their physical touch needs met elsewhere.
Signs You Might Be Touch Deprived
Sometimes it’s unclear if you’re touch deprived, or perhaps this is the first time you’re learning about how important physical touch is and you’re concerned that you might suffer from touch deprivation.
Therefore, it’s important to be able to spot the signs of touch deprivation and if you do notice that you’re experiencing these signs or symptoms, you do something about it to get your health, happiness, and wellbeing back on track!
Obviously, if you know that you haven’t had physical contact with another living being for a prolonged amount of time and you definitely miss that, you’ll be able to more easily pinpoint that you’re touch deprived. However, some of the signs associated with touch deprivation aren’t that obvious, or the thought of it may simply not have not crossed your mind.
So, here are some of the signs you can look out for that show you might be touch deprived:
- You long for affection
- You feel lonely
- You have high levels of stress and/or anxiety
- The relationships in your life don’t satisfy you
- You find it difficult to sleep or struggle with insomnia
- You experience depression
- You feel “pent up” or angry
- You subconsciously do things that make you feel wrapped up and cosy, such as snuggle up with blankets or take long baths.
What To Do About It: Say Goodbye To Touch Deprivation For Good
Whether you’re surrounded by people who are more tactile or you spend a lot of your time alone, there are a few things you can do to bring more physical affection into your life and put an end to the touch deprivation you’re experiencing.
Here are 3 of the most powerful things you can do to deal with touch deprivation:
If You Can, Share Physical Affection With Loved Ones
If you are in a position where you have people in your life that you can hug, hold hands with, or even rest your arm on, make sure you are taking the opportunity to do this. So often we get caught up in life and especially if we’re seeing our loved ones regularly we forget or miss out on the opportunity to have physical contact with them. So, the next time you pop for a coffee with a friend, greet them with a hug.
Go For A Massage or Get Your Nails Done
Physical contact doesn’t have to come from people that you know to bring you the benefits associated with it, so now you know this, use this to your advantage. If you can, book yourself in for a massage, get your nails done, or treat yourself to a blow dry and experience the benefits of physical touch with another person. Plus, who doesn’t want to indulge in a bit of self-care?
Look To Animals For Help
Whilst I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to adopt a dog purely to satisfy their own physical touch needs, animals can provide the same benefits of physical touch that we need (remember, it’s about touch with living beings - not just humans!). So, head to an animal shelter and help out, spend time around a friend’s pet, use apps like Borrowmydoggy if you’re wanting to pet sit, or plan to finally get the pet you’ve always wanted!
Touch is one of the most powerful senses we have, and since it’s human nature to experience physical touch, you shouldn’t be deprived of it.
Touch deprivation doesn’t have to be an ongoing problem that you let affect you, your health, and your wellbeing - you can take action and put an end to it, calling more affection into your life, right now.
Are you ready to take steps towards having your physical touch needs met? The physical and mental benefits you’ll experience will be well worth it, promise!
I'd also take a moment to say that if you are struggling in any way with touch deprivation, you feel lonely, or you are experiencing issues such as depression and anxiety, please do reach out to a mental health professional for support and guidance. If you need immediate help and you are in the UK or Ireland, please call The Samaritans on 116 123.