As a young nurse, I worked on a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery unit; I learned a lot about touch there. We dealt with pain every day, significant pain. I learned that pain medication sometimes wasn’t enough, but that holding a hand for five minutes often was enough to ease pain and suffering. I learned that a reassuring touch could calm anxiety and get someone through a frightening procedure. I learned that sometimes it was a family member who needed a gentle touch or a hug. I learned that touch always goes both ways – I often initiated touch to calm someone and was calmed and nurtured myself by the interaction. It’s a beautiful thing.
And 22 years of parenting, 27 years of marriage and countless years of friendships have taught me similar lessons. Touch is powerful, and, I believe, necessary. Some people are naturally more comfortable with touch; I believe all of us need it. People need touch to thrive. Touch releases a set of hormones in our bodies that bond us to each other, calm us and make us “feel good.” Some even “prescribe” a certain number of hugs a day for health and wellness - not a bad idea. Nurses, how many hugs did you give and receive today?
In recent years, I have noticed that many people are afraid to touch and have just stopped touching and being touched. How sad. Many teach children (and adults) to fear touch and even to avoid it. We fear inappropriate touch, giving the “wrong idea”, and/or charges of sexual harassment. Teachers are supposed to limit hugs. Business people are advised to touch only through handshakes.
We need healthy people and healthy families to be touch therapists to our world. We are social beings. We are physical beings. Touch is good. Touch is essential. Certainly we need to teach about inappropriate and harmful touch, but we shouldn’t stop touching.
3 Tips for Touching
- Hug those you love and hold your hugs for 20 seconds. This is how long it takes for the release of oxytocin, a powerful “bonding” hormone.
- Go out of your way to touch (gently and with kindness, of course) your ill or elderly friends and relatives, they need it.
- Take a risk and touch a bit more. Researchers have found that your intention and your emotions are transmitted through touch, so don’t be afraid to pat your nursing coworker on the back when they need encouragement, or place an appreciative hand on someone’s arm or shoulder when they have done a good job. If your intentions are good, the message gets translated through your touch. And it’s powerful, healthy and good.