The Joy of Touch

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” ~ Psychotherapist, Virginia Satir

A LESSON FROM THE THIRD FLOOR OF THE ICU

(written 2 months ago, posted today)

My mom has been in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for 4 days now. Today she will be moved to her own room.

She has been in frequent pain and discomfort, less from the open heart surgery 3 days ago (she’s been highly medicated), and more from the arthritis in her back lying down hour after hour after hour.

My brother and I have spent a lot of time with her. I slept on a foldout chair in her room last night. We talk. We joke. We laugh.

But mostly, we touch.

Holding hands, stroking arms, rubbing her head, massaging her feet, touching her cheek, rubbing her back.

If I’m sitting beside her, more likely than not, my hand is on her arm or head or back, massaging, gently stroking, caressing. Because of her open heart surgery, she’s connected to 4 or 5 different monitors. The results have been measurable: Reduced blood pressure and slower heart rate. Her pain becomes less severe and discomfort is replaced by more comfort.

THE THERAPY OF TOUCH

There is a tremendous amount of therapy in the human touch. Children and adults alike thrive with it and shrivel without it.

Touch comforts and consoles and it soothes and relaxes.

In the 1800s, abandoned infants regularly died in orphanages (perhaps at a rate as high as 90%!). And not, as you might think, from poor nutrition or unsterile environments.

They died from a lack of physical touch. They simply stopped thriving. They lost weight. Then died. Human contact was the vital missing link.

According to the Touch Research Institute, touch has three measurable effects on people (I quote them below):

  • Facilitates weight gain in preterm infants
  • Enhances attentiveness
  • Alleviates depressive symptoms
  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces stress hormones
  • Improves immune function

Touch, in other words, is a powerful component of both physical and mental health.

THE JOY OF TOUCH

Two days ago, while in the waiting room waiting (what else would we be doing in a waiting room?) for my mom to wake up, my brother and I met an incredible woman who lived a fascinating life, but found herself unemployed and unable to find work.

She is one of those special spirits who makes people feel good when they are around her. She is in her 60s but had the soul of a 20 year old. After some immensely enjoyable conversations over the course of the day, we said goodbye.

As we turned to go, I turned back, almost as an afterthought, and asked to give her a hug. Her face lit up quite literally. It was wonderful to see. We exchanged hugs and we all walked away feeling better, strangely more confident and happier.

Human touch in the form of hugs and embraces, handshakes and high fives, shoulder rubs and caresses sooth and calm and speak volumes of love and affection and friendship and acceptance.

No Brainer Disclaimer: touching the wrong person in the wrong way corrupts and destroys the therapeutic nature of human touch. Don’t abuse it. Ever!

FINAL THOUGHTS

So reach out and touch someone. Give grandma a hug. Rub dad’s shoulders. Stroke the cheek of a baby. Rub the feet of your spouse. Grip your buddy’s hand and give one of those slap-on-the-back dude-half-hugs. But reach out and make contact.

Your little corner of the world just might improve a little bit.

And, just maybe, you will feel a bit less lonely, and a bit happier than you did before contact was made.

Have You Experienced the Value of Touch?

  • Has anyone ever reached out to you with a hug or a handshake at a time when you particularly needed it?
  • Have you ever had the experience of reaching out to others through touch?
  • How has non-sexual touch enhanced your life?
  • I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. Please share …