If you’re sheltering in place solo, like I am, chances are that you’re at the point where you are desperately missing being touched by other human beings. This is definitely becoming one of the most challenging parts of our new reality.
As much as you are craving touch, you may also be feeling some anxiety around allowing yourself to be touched once the stay at home orders are lifted. This is totally normal since your nervous system has learned over the last few months to associate touch with fear of catching the virus.
I don’t have a great answer to this dilemma. I believe that over time, we will begin to assess who we feel comfortable being physically connected with. Consider it a new type of consent conversation where we will have to discern our risk of touching a particular person based on their own standards and behaviors, as well as potentially their test results.
In the meantime, it’s still important for you to get your daily dose of Oxytocin, the hormone that get’s released when you are touched in a loving way. When oxytocin is released, the hormone cortisol, responsible for fear and anxiety, gets significantly reduced. Reducing your cortisol levels right now is one of the most important things you can do to boost your immunity.
Here are five actions that you can take to get your touch and oxytocin needs met.
- Take a Warm Bath or Shower
Your skin is made up of tens of thousands of nerve endings that react to every type of sensation possible. Calming, soothing warm sensations on your body from relaxing in a hot bath or warm shower releases quite a bit of oxytocin. However, you probably won’t notice it as much if you’re in your head, thinking about your day, your to do list, or in the bath watching your favorite Netflix show (as I often am!).
To really get the benefits of this experience, become more aware and present while in the bath or shower. Notice the sensation of the water on your skin. Be aware of how warm water makes the rest of your body feel. Get curious about how your muscles might be changing, how loose or tight your body feels, what your belly and chest feel like, and whether your breathing slows down.
- Give Yourself a Massage
It’s true that a self massage is not the same as receiving one from someone else. However, self massage can be very comforting, soothing, and will definitely release those wonderful oxytocin hormones. When giving yourself a massage, be really intentional about it. While a two minute foot rub might fit the bill for the moment, why not treat yourself to a full 30-45 minute full body massage, just like you would in the pre-quarantine days.
Set the scene. Light some candles, diffuse some essential oils, listen to mellow music, make your massage space warm and inviting. Make sure the temperature is appropriate–most massage rooms keep the heat on rather high and have a warming pad. This helps the body to settle and relax. Warm up some coconut or massage oil in the microwave for a few seconds.
Lie on your back. You might even want to place a heating pad underneath you to soothe the parts of your body that you won’t be able to reach. Start the massage by placing one hand on your heart and one on your stomach and take five deep breaths. Then begin to massage your body starting from the hands and arms, move to shoulders, chest, hips, butt (if you can reach), legs and feet.
Take your time! Stop and allow yourself to notice sensations in your body. Be curious about what type of touch you want (fast, slow, deep, soft, tickly etc). When you reach a tight muscle, spend a little time gently massaging that area until you feel it soften a bit or release. When the massage is complete, just lay still and allow your body to integrate the experience.
- Exchange Touch with a Friend or Lover Virtually
While at first glance this may sound weird, it’s actually been going on for years in long distance relationships and the cam porn industry. Virtual sex (whether through phone or video) is not new to Covid-19 life..ask anyone whose been in a long distance relationship.
You can take those same principles and translate that to exchanging touch. There are several different ways this can happen. You can each touch yourself at the same time (like giving each other a virtual hug). You can take turns instructing each other how to touch yourself. For example, “If I was sitting next to you, I’d first run my fingers gently down your face and over your neck”. The person on the receiving end touches themselves the way they are being instructed.
If you’re into power play, (dominance/submission) this can also be turned into a command. “Slowly take your shirt off and lightly touch your nipples”. You can also add into the experience objects that you want to be touched with or touch your lover with .Feathers, scarves, ice cubes, forks, vibrators etc. The possibilities for a sensual or sexual connection are endless, limited only by your creativity and the fact that you only have two hands.
- Cuddle with Your Pet
There’s a reason that animal shelters have been emptied out lately, another silver lining of the Pandemic. Not only are many single people getting the companionship that a furry friend brings into your life, but there is also another added benefit. Touching and cuddling with your cat or dog is a wonderful way to receive and give touch. Just like humans, we attune to our pets nervous systems. Even the most anxious dog will start calming down once they receive soft, calm, gentle petting. Touching your pet releases oxytocin in both of your systems, helping both you and your pet settle, calm, and feel connected.
- Surround Yourself with Soft, Furry, Things
If like me, allergy and life styles preclude you bringing a live furry friend into your life, don’t fret. You can still get your touch needs met and have the oxytocin flowing by surrounding yourself with objects that you enjoy touching and calm you down. These might include a soft and furry robe, a yummy soft blanket, and a delicious stuffed animal.
Several years ago, during one of my trauma trainings, I was introduced to the concept of having clients cuddle with large stuffed animals as a way to settle their nervous system. I found this very soothing when I was activated during class and went on the hunt for the perfect cuddly companion for both me and my clients.
And so my love affair with Bear began and continues to this day. He is the perfect oxytocin booster since he’s incredibly soft, has arms that are loose and can wrap around your body, and his whole body can lay flat right on top of you. The best boyfriend ever! Also a great gift for a child!
This is the company that makes the Bear (and other types of furry friends). Even though it’s not on their website at the moment, they will ship one to you if you email or call them (though their factory is closed till Mid-May).
Bottom line is that there are many ways you can get your touch needs met. What else have you tried? Comment below