the power of human contact in wellness: 5 signs you're experiencing touch deprivation


Have you ever noticed that if you stub your toe, feel a shooting pain in your tooth, or have an upset stomach, you automatically place your hands on the source of the discomfort? Without even realizing it, we attempt to heal ourselves through touch. This is because human beings are designed to give and receive physical contact. The need for touch is a biological requirement that can actually lead to death for infants if left unfulfilled. While not fatal for adults, the consequences can be just as devastating, especially here in North America where using touch for greeting, communication, affection and healing is much less common than in other societies. We often limit our physical interactions with strangers to hand shaking and are quick to dole out an apology when we brush shoulders with someone next to us in line.

Using touch more consciously can be a very powerful method of relaxation and pain reduction. Our innate healing processes are stimulated by touch, as the capillaries that facilitate blood flow are activated to increase body heat, energy movement, and relaxation of muscular tension. On a deeper level, our soul receives an indescribable comfort that affects us physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. As John W. Travis puts it, “We need to touch and be touched in order to learn, to communicate, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, and to grow.” In a culture where touch is limited, where does that leave people who aren’t in an intimate relationship, or those who don’t share physical contact with their family?

To satisfy the hunger for touch, it’s not uncommon for unintentional means of compensation to become routine.

Check out the following 5 signs and behaviours that indicate touch deprivation, and read on to learn about some remedies!

  1. Overeating.

    Food can easily become a source of comfort for us in many ways, but it can also be a way for us to physically interact with ourselves. There is a sense of self-connection within the process of picking up food, bringing it to our lips and filling our mouth. The physical stimulation this gives us can become a substitute for touch, as a way to mask the pain of isolation.

  2. Self-destructive physical habits.

    Just as unconsciously we reach for a body part in pain, we can develop habits that are harmful to our wellbeing but stem from a need to feel contact. These often show up as nail biting, hair or eyelash pulling, hand wringing, skin picking and joint cracking.

  3. Dysfunctional relationships.

    The ways a relationship can malfunction are endless, but we tend to overlook physical affection as a cause. We can fall into habitual grooves, into daily routines that lack variety and intensity of touch and interaction. We can find ourselves drifting away from our partner without any obvious problems but with a strong undercurrent of physical isolation.

  4. Persistent physical ailments.

    Perhaps you’ve been plagued with sore joints, a slow-healing injury, or frequent headaches. When time hasn’t healed the wound or the cause is unexplainable, it can often come down to a lack of fulfilling touch. The body craves interaction and will annoy you with warning signs until you listen!

  5. High stress levels.

    Touch lowers our blood pressure, increases circulation, and can even reduce cortisol levels. The simple act of holding hands or hugging have been shown to deactivate areas of the brain that influence stress hormones.

Luckily, awareness is the key to change. By acknowledging the potential causes of our feelings, we can take steps towards self-care. Ask for what you need, whether it be from yourself, your family, or your partner. Seeking out healing touch from healthcare providers is an essential tool in maintaining wellness. There’s a reason that healing doesn’t occur in a bubble - there is an inexplicable force behind the loving hands of others that has been used in medicine for centuries. hiley utilizes hands-on healing by offering Reiki, a Japanese technique of energy balancing by using the gentle laying of hands. Check out more about Reiki here!

kiara tchir