Lost Touch

An article from The Guardian that’s been sitting in my backlog for a while (it was published back in January, 2021), Eleanor Morgan discusses “Lost touch: how a year without hugs affects our mental health“. It’s not a particularly long read, but does have some good links to research and other information about the impact not having enough human contact in your life can have.

As adults, we may not comprehend the importance of touch even when it disappears. “We might begin to realise that something is missing, but we won’t always know that it’s touch,” says Prof Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist based at Liverpool John Moores University and a leader in the field of affective touch. “But when we talk about the problem of loneliness, we often ignore the obvious: what lonely people aren’t getting is touch.”

Certainly strikes true to me.

“Touch is a modulator that can temper the effects of stress and pain, physical and emotional. We have seen in our research that a lack of touch is associated with greater anxiety,” says [Dr. Katerina] Fotopoulou. “In times of high stress – the loss of a job, or a bereavement, for example – having more touch from others helps us cope better, particularly in calming the effects of [the stress hormone] cortisol.” Even if we’re used to not being touched a lot, after a while the need can feel very physical – sometimes described as “skin hunger” or “touch hunger”.

I also thought it was interesting to hear about CTs – nerves we have that are keyed for gentle contact:

The two square metres of skin that contain us are teeming with nerve fibres that recognise temperature, texture and itch, etc. One set of fibres exists purely to register gentle, stroking touch: the C tactile afferents (CTs). [Professor Francis] McGlone has been studying this since 1995, when it was discovered in humans. “These neurons, in the skin of all social mammals, transmit slow electrical signals to the emotional processing parts of the brain. They play a critical role in developing the social brain and our ability to withstand stress.”

I’ve discussed loneliness and depression on here before, it’s a bit of a recurring topic. I’ve seen and read other articles discussing the topic of the need for physical contact (and could have sworn I’d linked to some on here, though they seem to be escaping my search at the moment), and it’s something I’ve definitely given a lot of thought to – I’ve gone through various periods in my life where I had very little physical contact, and know from experience what a difference it can make on my general health, happiness, and wellbeing.