anxiety, health, life

Compassionate Physical Touch for Wellness and Mental Health

Touch is a fundamental communication between people. It allows us to communicate compassion better that words or facial expression.

Touch is the most important element of bonding and compassion between humans. There are neurochemical effects of skin to skin touch. Compassionate touch is critical for the brain and the body to be healthy. We need human touch to be well.

We need  human touch in order to have good mental health. People who are touch deprived can develop mental illness.

People with mental illness can become worse from a lack of pleasant  physical touch. Compassionate touch reduces stress hormones, including cortisol. When someone touches your skin in a pleasant way, it makes you feel calmer and safer. Anxious feelings  of being in danger and feeling that there is a  threat can be reduced.

People deprived of pleasant physical touch  can develop high levels of stress hormones. High levels of stress hormones on a regular basis will cause a condition of severe anxiety disorder. Depression is often a condition that goes hand in hand with anxiety disorders.

“When a person receives a pleasing touch, the hormone oxytocin is released in the brain. Oxytocin is linked with human bonding, socializing and maternal instincts. It helps alleviate anxiety and fear and is critical in trust-building. There is even a specialized part of the nervous system in our skin, known as tactile C fibers, that is specialized to pick up compassionate touch.” Pracha Touch

Physical touch can promote healing in the body and reduce the likelihood for disease and illnesses. This includes both physical and mental illnesses. Insomnia can be relieved by the hormone balancing effect of skin to skin touch that is pleasant.

Some people with mental illness may have been touch deprived as infants and as children. There is research about the necessity of touch for proper development and growth.

There was research by John Bowlby and Renee Spitz, during WW II, about the effect of touch on infants. Infants that were orphans, living in institutional settings were not held by the caregivers.

The lack of compassionate touch caused a 75% mortality rate. Also, the infants had a lower weight and length than infants of the same age. They did not develop properly due to the lack of being comforted. The compassionate touch of the mother is comforting to an infant and reduces fear and anxiety of the baby.

Babies need to have their nervous systems regulated by the mother. Infants do not  have the capacity to regulate their own nervous systems. Infants even regulate their breathing with their mother’s breathing. Babies that sleep with their mother have a dramatically lower incidence of infant death syndrome.

If the baby forgets to take a breath, the mothers breath on the baby’s face will cause the baby to draw in a breath. The baby will be calmed by the sound of its mother’s heartbeat.

“In some of the most dramatic new findings, premature infants who were massaged for 15 minutes three times a day gained weight 47 percent faster than others who were left alone in their incubators – the usual practice in the past. The massaged infants also showed signs that the nervous system was maturing more rapidly: they became more active than the other babies and more responsive to such things as a face or a rattle.” Daniel Goleman New York Times

The United States is one of the most touch deprived countries in the world. In studies, we come up second to England

In the 1960s, psychologist Sidney Jourard, studied the conversations of friends in different parts of the world. He observed friends as they spent time together in a café.

In England, the two friends touched each other zero times. In the United States, there was an average of 2 touches during the conversation. But in France, the frequency of touch was 110 times per hour. And in Puerto Rico, the friends touched each other an average of 180 times!

It is possible that the mental health crisis in the US has something to do with the fact that we are a “No-touch” culture.

9 thoughts on “Compassionate Physical Touch for Wellness and Mental Health”

  1. I can’t even begin to comment on this post, or it will turn into a book. From someone with over 20 years of major depression and BPD:
    I give an accept hugs from my dogs more than my husband, who I ADORE and cherish.
    I want to change, but can’t.
    I was ‘touched’ but not nurtured as a child.
    An occasional pat on the head from mom or dad doesn’t count.
    I could go on and on. And my story is the norm.
    This is very sad and a huge issue. Thanks for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It makes sense to me. In first year Psychology we studied experiments they did on monkeys where some monkeys were nursed by their mothers, others received mother’s milk, but from a metal and fur dummy made to look like a monkey, and still other monkeys were just fed their milk from a wire mock-up that had no fur at all. The difference in the results in the development of those groups of monkeys was absolutely astounding. Cuddling and touching are very important as a baby develops into an older child, and even as they become an adult.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Harlow’s experiments with the wire mothers were demonstrative of the need for babies to feel close to their mothers. The wire monkeys were not an acceptable substitute to comfort the babies or make them feel safe when the scary robot was sent in to scare them. I watched the video footage of the Harlow experiments. It was disturbing but her did set out to prove what he intended to.
      I am sure that your class did a modified version in order to not be cruel to the animals. I believe there was controversy about Harlow’s particular methods.
      Thank you for your comment. These things are worth thinking about. Our humanity cannot be ignored. We will all become like robots.
      Take care,

      Thank you for


  3. Fantastic post. I just blogged about my oldest son who suffers from GAD touching his great grandmother’s arm after she had died in hospital. I wasn’t hugged a lot as a kid, and my husband’s family are a very touchy feely kind of group. I’ve had to learn to be a hugger and it’s not easy. I started with those gentle touches first, but sometimes I literally have to force myself to make a concerted effort. My boys have been raised in the likes of their father (thank God) and unknowingly help me become better at hugging (they do surprise sandwich hugs with their bodies when I’m sitting on the couch!). Thanks again for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everyone is different about how they feel when others hug them. I wrote part 1 of this post and someone commented to me about some people not being able to be touched due to sexual abuse or other reasons. That is why I wrote the Part 2.
      I was glad the person spoke up and reminded me about that.
      Thank you for reading. Sorry I am behind on responding to my comments.


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