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Jan 10 2019
by Hallie Feinman

Let's Talk About Touch Deprivation

By Hallie Feinman - Jan 10 2019
56 shares

It’s January-- welcome to the slump. 

I don’t know about you, but the first three months of the year have always been the hardest for me. It’s gray, it’s cold, it’s wet, and all I want to do right now is lay in bed and never move again ever. I crave the warmth from a mug of tea or the feeling of being swaddled by a blanket burrito. Right now, I really just need a hug--both mentally and physically.

This feeling of loneliness is not just in our heads. 

We as humans biologically need to touch one another. The skin is our body’s largest sensory organ--the nerve endings found in the skin release cortisol upon being contacted. Cortisol helps to control blood pressure when we are stressed--a hug is comforting, not only because it is a kind emotional gesture, but it physically helps to relieve anxiety.

Our need to feel loved goes all the way back our fundamental years. 

Babies need skin-to-skin contact to learn how to connect and engage with others emotionally. The cortisol released by cuddling helps babies associate positive feelings of loving acts and emotions. Young children attach themselves to soft blankets and plush toys because the fabric simulates the feel of physical contact.

It is common to greet friends and family members with a hug or handshake, forming a physical connection between you and the receiver. A hug at the start of a conversation helps both individuals feel more at ease, and a hug goodbye helps sustain those warm, fuzzy feelings from visiting with a friend for the rest of the day. Additionally, very close friends feel more comfortable sitting or walking near each other, hugging, or even holding hands. The more physical interactions you have with a friend, the better both of you feel.

With the departure to college comes the separation from the close friends and family at home. 

Some of you may have made close friends so far--some of you may not. Either way, it is possible that you do not feel as close to your friends at college as you do with your friends or family at home. This lack of familiarity can make the idea of physical contact uncomfortable, depriving you of that power bank of cortisol. Even if you have friends, without physically connecting, you can be left with a disconnect and feelings of loneliness.

Some of the effects of cortisol deficiency include feeling sluggish, uninspired, depressed, or turning to comfort foods or activities to find a cortisol release. Weight gain can be associated with cortisol deficiencies because sugar, chocolates, and fatty foods can cause a cortisol release.

If you think you may be touch deprived, consider different ways you can manage these feelings of loneliness. 

Talk to your college friends to find out if they are comfortable to be hugged or touched. Try taking a beloved stuffed animal or blanket from home back to school with you so you can have that cortisol release. Or, try asking your doctor is adding supplements to your diet is right for you.

Take solace knowing that you are not “crazy” for wanting to cuddle--you are listening to your body’s biological urges. Go hug it out. 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Hallie Feinman - The College of William and Mary

Just a TWAMP livin' it up in the swamp. I am focused on American Studies, Film and Media, and Music. Catch me watching YouTube, working for student publications, and singing jazz in a big band.

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