I find myself reminded during the COVID-19 pandemic of a silly riddle from my boyhood: What do men do standing up, women do sitting down and a dog does on three legs? Your hint is that Dr. Anthony Fauci said it may never come back.
The answer is the handshake.
We must acknowledge the possibility that future generations may be stumped by this riddle. And sadly, I also recognize that as a society we are experiencing touch deprivation.
In times of strife, a pat on the hand or a gentle hug can communicate the sentiment, “I feel your pain, I see you and I understand what you are going through,” better than words alone. In the present state of uncertainty, the closeness we crave is the pandemic’s forbidden fruit.
The healing power of physical touch can be measured. Doctors have found through laboratory tests such as MRIs, that there are evident changes in the patterns of brain activity during touch.
A great big bear hug can increase hormones associated with pleasure such as endorphins and oxytocin and decrease stress hormones such a cortisol. Physical touch can help elevate mood, enhance your ability to fight infection and even help you sleep better.
For those who are riding out the pandemic in isolation, this information is not meant to rub salt into the festering wound of being physically distant. You can still engage in self-care to mimic physical touch and have many of the same benefits.
It is empowering to bolster your connection with your physical self. Here are a few instructions for self-massage:
Massage your upper back. Take a tennis ball and place it in the bottom of a sock. Flip it over your shoulder and lean back against the wall, with the ball situated in the section between the shoulder blade and spine. Move your back around, with squats or hip adjustments, and the ball will follow. Deep breaths will also add massage, because it widens the rib cage.
Massage your feet. The feet support your entire body, so keeping them in good shape helps you maintain balance and posture. Roll a tennis ball under your foot putting pressure on the ball when it meets the arch. Keep a ball under your desk so that you can roll out your foot when you jump on your computer.
Massage your neck. Interlock your fingers and use your thumbs in circular motions. Use a good body lotion or massage oil so that your touch stays light.
In addition, use a loofah, long-handled brush or soaps with exfoliants in them when you shower. These seemingly routine practices can move the skin and save it from being deprived of stimulation.
Stretching, taking baths, using warm moist heat packs can also simulate touch.
I am heartbroken thinking of our isolated elderly who have not been able to hug their children and grandchildren. I treasure the memories I have of visiting my Granny, at least once a week.
Our visits began and ended with a long embrace, and every time Granny said, “You give the best hugs.”
And I was thinking the same about her. JN
Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions.