Thanks to the social media craze, one would think we are all closer than ever before. While that could certainly be true in some aspects, one important element is lacking when it comes to all relationships: human touch. What’s the big deal?
Well, touch stimulates the vagus nerve which runs through our entire body, and its main purpose is to slow our nervous systems. According to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, when the vagus nerve is working properly and our nervous systems slow down “heart rate goes down, blood pressure drops, and stress-hormone levels fall.”
Field was curious about the power of the vagus nerve, and in the studies she conducted with patients suffering from cancer and AIDS, massage therapy was actually shown to boost our bodies’ “natural killer cells.” These cells attack bacterial, viral and even cancer cells. In addition, massage helps your body enter a deeper sleep, longer, allowing your body to relish in the restorative benefits of sleep. Increased levels of touch can also boost oxytocin levels, giving you that warm, happy feeling.
The benefits of touch are not limited to professional massage. Small gestures like hugging family and friends hello or goodbye, touching a friend’s arm as they tell you a meaningful story, patting your child on his or her back after an achievement — these are all simple but effective ways to create meaningful contact.
You can also embrace your own touch for stress relief during the day. Bring a tennis ball with you to the office or in your vehicle for between errands and meetings, and run it up and down your arms a couple times per day.
In cooler weather, reach for a weighted blanket. They are super warm, comforting, and give you that sensation of being touched or comforted.
Lastly, workout! Yoga, lifting weights, walking, running and swimming all give us the sensation pressure, simulating touch! As if we needed another reason to exercise, right?
Remember these tips the next time you are on the couch with your kids, having lunch with a friend or listening to your spouse’s stories about their day. Instead of reaching for your phone, reach for one another.
Best of health,