Photo via Pixabay by Unsplash
Anxiety affects millions of people in various ways, and everyone has their own method of coping with the symptoms. Some of these, like exercise, are on the positive side. Others can include turning to drugs or alcohol. One way we can combat it, however, isn’t so well known: platonic touch.
Platonic touch--meaning any physical contact that isn’t sexual in nature--can be extremely helpful in dealing with anxiety and stress. Studies have shown that hugging can lower blood pressure and heart rate, boost moods, and can even possibly fight off impending colds through the release of a hormone in the brain called oxytocin, which fights off cortisol--an enemy of the immune system.
Because anxiety is caused by so many different things and manifests itself in various ways, platonic touch can be helpful in that it can be tailored to fit an individual’s needs. Unlike relaxing massage or yoga/meditation--which are done with the express purpose of healing one person--platonic touch is a two-way street. Sometimes stroking hair or skin or hugging is just as relaxing when it’s being given as it is when it is received, and because there are so many ways to touch platonically, a person can adjust it to their needs for the moment.
There’s a reason kids run to their parents for hugs or to hold their hand when they are scared or nervous: touch brings reassurance. It’s comforting, has a soothing effect, and can make us feel less alone or afraid. Studies have shown that babies who are not given adequate physical contact can have lasting negative effects, such as behavioral, social, and emotional problems well into the teen years and beyond. In fact, many hospitals encourage skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby or father and baby immediately after birth in order for easier bonding and other developmental benefits.
“Particularly in the newborn period, it helps calm babies: they cry less and it helps them sleep better. There are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated—probably because they are calmer and sleep better,” reads Scientific American.
Touch is so important that it can have effects on us even when we aren’t aware of it. A 2014 study by Alberto Gallace and Charles Spence looked at the positive effects of touch, including these surprising results:
● Elderly nursing home residents often feel unwanted or unloved because of a lack of physical contact with others.
● Customers respond more positively to a tasting and purchasing request in a supermarket when they are touched by an experimenter posing as a store assistant.
● People are significantly more likely to return a dime left in a phone booth if the preceding “telephone caller” touched them.
Anxiety can occur under many different circumstances and does not just affect one age group or one type of person. For some, it comes when the brain can’t stop thinking about “what-if” situations. For others, being in a large group of people causes stress and a sense of anxiousness that can’t be pinpointed. For these individuals--and many others--it’s important to try and suss out triggers and figure out what causes the anxiety so that it may be avoided.
While being in social situations can lead to anxiety for some, spending time giving and receiving platonic touch can be immensely helpful in helping the mind to focus and unload some of its weight. Touch elicits strong emotional responses and can help us cope with negative feelings and memories as well as feel good about the future.
Jennifer McGregor is a pre-med student, who loves providing reliable health and medical resources for PublicHealthLibrary.org users. She knows how difficult it can be to sift through the mountains of health-related information on the web. She co-created the site with a friend as a way to push reputable information on health topics to the forefront, making them easier and quicker to find.