The Unintended Consequence of Social Distancing
“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth” is a quote by Margaret Atwood and it demonstrates the importance of touch in strengthening the human spirit. Amid the global pandemic, we have lost a fundamental connection that is wired into our brains. In the process of staying safe and maintaining our physical well-being, we have unintentionally put our mental health at risk.
As the pandemic took over the world, new regulations were put into place in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, an unintended consequence of this was the lack of touch within our everyday lives. Touch starvation "increases stress, depression and anxiety, triggering a cascade of negative physiological effects. The body releases the hormone cortisol as a response to stress" (Pierce, 2020). This quote displays the damage an absence of touch has psychologically; an unintended side effect of social distancing. This means that in the process of keeping yourself and others safe, your mental health may take a hit. The following is a personal story about how someone's life was impacted by COVID-19: "a professor at Portland State University … recalled being unable to hug a student ... said she especially missed the tighter, longer hugs that accompany a reunion" (Hasan, 2020). This story shows how the professor's life had changed as a result of limited touch.. This harsh situation is the reality for many individuals and takes a toll on our mental health. These unprecedented times have uprooted every one of us from our very core.
Touch is one of the five senses and is deeply rooted in defining human behavior. We rely on touch more than we often give it credit for and it is directly connected to our happiness levels. An example of this is "When we hug or feel a friendly touch on our skin, our brains release oxytocin, a neuropeptide involved in increasing positive, feel-good sensations of trust...while decreasing fear and anxiety responses in the brain at the same time" (Pierce, 2020). This quote illustrates the impact touch has on our subconscious and how it can impact our mental well being without us even realizing it. I know personally that I was shocked when I read this piece of information because I never expected touch to play a big role in maintaining good mental health. Furthermore, this illustrates the importance of touch throughout our lives whether it be from family members or friends. The release of oxytocin helps create stronger bonds with people we care about and increasing time spent with individuals can help create stronger bonds. This is a big factor behind the strong emotional bonds children develop with their parents. I find it very interesting to think about other ways touch has shaped our lives and how it will continue to do so in the future.
It is easy to lose hope and motivation due to all of the chaos we are surrounded by, but it is crucial to remember that all of this is a temporary set back. Despite this situation, we can use a variety of coping mechanisms to help us maintain a healthy mindset. This can include hugging family members more often, socializing with our friend's over the phone, or practicing other forms of self-care. I have started socializing with my friends and hugging family members more frequently to help elevate the mood and get over the touch hurdle. I have also gotten my sleep schedule back on track which has helped me stay happy and healthy.
In short, everyone should take time out of their day to practice some self-care or activity to help maintain a positive mental state. Check-in with friends and family. Engage in more hugs (while respecting social distancing guidelines of course)! Despite this pandemic, we still can get through this difficult time in our lives together. Remember to take care of your mental health today!
Center, T., & Pierce, S. (2020, May 15). Touch starvation is a consequence of COVID-19's physical distancing. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.tmc.edu/news/2020/05/touch-starvation/
Hasan, M. (2020, October 06). What All That Touch Deprivation Is Doing to Us. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/06/style/touch-deprivation-coronavirus.html