I attended a training course on professional boundaries recently. The question of physical contact was discussed. In a Health and Social Care setting, hugging a client is usually a ‘no-go,’ and a definite No when it’s against company policy. This got me thinking about boundaries in our personal lives too. Boundaries can be blurry when it comes to physical contact, even with friends we’ve known for years. To hug or not to hug? Kiss on the cheek, or quickly duck when you see the face approaching?
We have our reasons for our varying comfort zones when it comes to closeness, whether it’s a cultural upbringing or a protective act that directs us. But us humans have a need for physical contact…
I’m reading ‘Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind’. Linden writes about babies in an understaffed orphanage; the babies who received touch therapy put more weight on, had fewer infections and even slept better. Did you know there is a term for people who are craving physical touch? Skin Hunger. It’s not just our bellies that need a feed! Contact and connection can be nurturing. A hug can increase our oxytocin levels, and in the right circumstances a cuddle can reduce stress.
Putting aside the touchy-feel needs, social interaction is also incredibly important for good health. I’m not dismissing the benefits of solitude. As a self-confessed daydreamer, I know I benefit from a bit of space. Solitude can be good for the soul and just because someone is alone, doesn’t mean they are lonely. But not everyone likes being alone. It can be painful.
Not only does loneliness impact on our mental health, it can have detrimental effects on our physical health too.
Research into loneliness
- “Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%”
- “The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking”
- “Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure”
How do we know if someone is lonely?
As writer Olivia Llang says, “hidden behind a computer screen, the lonely person has control.” We can portray an existence online that is so far from reality that no one would know what is being experienced. Would you post a picture of yourself alone and declare your feelings of loneliness? Some of us are old enough to remember the time when technology wasn’t so prevalent in our lives, when masking ourselves wasn’t so easy. I expect everyone has experienced empty feelings of loneliness, maybe in a temporary state or perhaps for a more prolonged amount of time. And no one is immune. Loneliness isn’t something that only happens in old age.
In a world where so many people experience social isolation, reaching out to connect with others could make a huge difference. It sounds depressing, but I bet there’s a lonely person in a house near all of us.
Ways to connect with others:
- A writer and musician I know in Frome is seeking people for a community project: PIPPA (People In Positive Politics Association). You can read more about it here where you can also hear her song Magic Money Tree – a campaign song for an equal society.
- A list of regional events that are set up to support people who are experiencing social isolation can be found here here
- Or if like me you like a good cuppa, there’s the Tea Party Raves
Of course, if you have a touch of skin hunger, a therapeutic massage might just be the nourishment you need…