I was sitting out in my backyard over the weekend when my 3-year-old neighbor said over the fence, “Teeny (my nickname). I miss hugging you.”
I miss hugging too. I was a hugger and a hand holder and a shoulder to cry on-er before COVID.
Oh I was also a face toucher. Suddenly, our habits (bad and good) have had to change.
Touch is one of our five senses. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, touch is “thought to be one of the first senses to develop, touch occurs across the whole body using a variety of receptors in the skin. It often combines these signals with feedback from the muscles and tendons as we actively move and explore the world….” Studies have shown the babies who are denied touch and human contact do not develop (physically, emotionally) normally.
I’ve been lucky though. For the first 8 weeks of quarantine, I was with my parents and could get hugs and other physical contact when I needed it. When I was packing up to leave, mom and I hugged for a LONG TIME. I think I knew it would be the last hug I’d be getting or giving for a while.
But, I also have another secret touch weapon, my dogs. I spend a lot of time petting them, snuggling them, giving them kisses. While it isn’t a replacement for human contact, it is something that I can feel. As I rub my hand across Huck’s coarse fur, I feel his presence, and his comfort and affection for me. Touching him reminds me of my self—that I’m still the living, breathing, feeling creature-despite practicing physical distancing from others.
If you don’t have a pet, you can try mindful touching. The next time you are in the shower, pay attention to how it feels to wash your hair, how your sponge feels against your skin. What does it feel like? Maybe you are someone who likes to bake. Kneading dough can also be an excellent exploration in mindful touching. How does the dough feel as it comes together? How does the texture change? Other spaces you can try mindful touch include, gardening, fiber work (knitting, crochet, quilting), and other crafts. There are also mindful touch meditations available via apps like Headspace, Calm and Insight timer.
If you are quarantined with someone else, you can also try this exercise. Have the other person put five objects in a bag (something you can’t see-through). These objects can be anything from around the house, but should vary in size, weight, and texture. Then, reach in the bag and without looking, try to guess what the objects are in the back. Feel them. Are they rough, soft, small, large? Try to guess what they are, then have your partner reveal them to you. This exercise engages the fingers, hands, skin, and brain.
Replacing human contact, for now, is important to maintain our well-being. Perhaps you have been trying mindful touch without even knowing it.
What is helping you cope with the absence of touch in your life?
Christina is a clinical oncology social worker and the psychosocial content editor at Oncolink. Christina blogs about resources available to the cancer community, as well as general information about coping with cancer practically, emotionally, and spiritually. Christina is also an instructor at the Penn School of Social Policy and Practice. In her spare time, she loves to knit and volunteer with her therapy dogs, Linus and Huckleberry. She also loves to travel, cook and is an avid Philly sports fan.