The Importance of Healthy Touch
Are you single, married, dating? Do you live at home, with someone else or alone? Do you have children or are taking care of a relative and/or elderly person? Do you work full-time or part-time? Do you volunteer or help out around your neighborhood or community?
Well, let me ask you this…Did you get touched today? I mean physically touched without anything required of you? Did someone give you a hug just because or to offer their love and support?
Too often, no matter what your circumstances, you weren’t touched at all today or maybe for several days and this can affect your health physically and mentally.
Touch is vital to our survival as humans, regardless of age. In 1915, James H.M. Knox of Johns Hopkins Hospital reported that babies left in orphanages and given proper nutrition died at a rate of about 90 percent. Other studies of the same era confirmed these findings and showed that those babies who did survive were often mentally handicapped and stunted in their growth. These valuable studies helped institutions understand the importance of touch. When staff was added to provide enough time for each child to be held, handled, and touched, mortality rates dropped dramatically.
Those early statistical studies showed how vital touch is to developing infants. Researchers are also finding that giving massage to premature infants can improve their growth and overall health. A study conducted by the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami found that when stable premature babies were given five, one-minute massages a day, they gained 47 percent more weight than their counterparts who didn't get massage.
Many massage schools now offer courses in neonatal massage, and most hospitals include some kind of program to introduce nurturing touch to hospitalized infants. In the U.S., nurses, therapists, and parents are trained to give massage to premature babies so they get the necessary stimulation for optimal development without stressing their delicate systems.
While most infant studies involve preemies, a 2001 study conducted by TRI showed that when mothers gave their infants a 15-minute massage before bedtime, these sleep-challenged children went to sleep more quickly and were more alert during daytime hours. The list of studies goes on and on, but what's most important to remember is that infants need touch to develop healthy nervous systems.
From the time my son was small, I gave him back rubs before tucking him into bed at night, especially when he wasn’t feeling well or had a bad day and it would help him relax enough to go to sleep. He suffers from asthma and many times just gently rubbing his back, neck and shoulders would calm him down enough to ease his breathing. He still loves having his back rubbed in order to relax and is especially happy that his mother has become a massage therapist.
As children grow up, they continue to need touch, but as they get older they get nurturing touch less and less. Boys especially suffer touch deprivation that begins much earlier than for girls, typically. Many school systems forbid teachers from touching students for fear of litigation and the busy lifestyles of children and working parents often keep children from getting the touch they need and behavior problems can result.
Clinical research and sociological studies have linked touch deprivation with aggression. A 2002 study reported that adolescents with a history of aggressive behavior showed less aggression and were less anxious after receiving a 20-minute massage twice a week for five weeks.
Massage also reduces the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder so children can concentrate better, and it's even been found that the right kind of touch can help children with autism relate better to teachers and family members. Massage is on the increase at hospitals and clinics that treat many types of physical, emotional and mental challenges for children.
Ongoing research by The Touch Research Institute continues to prove that massage is an important therapy for many conditions. After a massage, levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop in saliva tests and examinations show an improvement in alertness and relaxation, depression scores decrease, and mental focus improves.
The exponential growth of the bodywork field is a testament to the value of safe, therapeutic touch. Of course bodywork can play an essential role in the healing of specific chronic or acute orthopedic conditions, but it also serves as a powerful aide in improving the quality of life for adults.
Interesting to note that in 2008, massage, as an industry grew even when most other industries were suffering in the midst of an economic crises. This reflects that stress levels were high and people were seeking healthy ways of relieving it.
We often equate the need for physical closeness with the need for sex, but anyone who's been in a close, long-term relationship understands that as time goes by sex becomes less frequent, however the need for nurturing touch remains strong. For those not in a relationship, massage can be a healthy way to get that much-needed human contact.
Isolation, loss of loved ones, loss of home and independence -- we often think of these things as primary causes of depression in the elderly, but what about the loss of human touch? People confined to nursing homes rarely get more than daily hygienic care and the stigma of touching elders contributes to their physical isolation.
Elders need touch as much as infants, studies show that when they receive regular massage, the elderly have less depression and anxiety, experience better physical coordination, and show a decrease of stress hormone in their saliva. One study showed that elders who participated as volunteer grandparents in a program to give massage to abused infants experienced the same benefits as when they themselves received massage. Simply by giving touch, they were able to improve their own health. In fact, many hospitals recruit the elderly to give touch to premature and sick infants by rocking them for several minutes each day and both experience the benefits.
Geriatric massage is a growing field requiring specialized training and many massage therapists offer it in their practices. Some nursing homes now provide massage to their residents. In my own work, I have an elderly client that is home bound and also going through chemo therapy. With light massage, they are able to rest and sleep better. Their spouse died a couple of years ago and just giving a head and neck massage helps with their loneliness and depression and eases their anxiety.
We are wired to need to touch, we need to be touched. In the early months before babies learn about their hands, feet, toes and fingers, they need the touch of parents, caregivers, and family to develop and we retain that need our entire lives.
Most women will agree that they are guilty of putting themselves last when they typically are working full-time, caring for a family and sometimes an older relative. This also applies to stay-at-home dads too. However, the first rule in first-aid is to take care of yourself first, so you can be there to take care of others.
I have many female clients that come in for massage only because the pain has become so unbearable that they have little choice in order to keep taking care of others.
So, let’s skip the lecture, because I’m sure you’ve heard it before, how you should take better care of yourself. Massage can be a very effective way to care for yourself and let me just list a few of the many benefits:
· Assist in tissue repair and healthy scar formation
· Promotes good joint mobility, flexibility and proper alignment
· Reduce muscle stiffness, tension and pain
· Improve circulatory and lymphatic function
· Decrease blood pressure and increase blood cell circulation
· Increased mental clarity, reduced anxiety and increase feelings of general well being.
So this is all fine and good, but what to do between massages to meet our need for touch? Hug someone! Yes, a full body (not the barely touching with a little pat on the back kind of hug), where you wrap them in your arms, is a wonderful way to feel good and make someone’s day.
Years ago, I had a friend that was a “hugger”. She would hug anyone and everyone, it didn’t matter. The day she hugged the man that would later become my husband, I decided I was giving this hugging thing a try. It was a bit scary at first and felt awkward, but the more I hugged, the more I got hugged and it felt great!
I came from a home where touch was not part of our family unless you were getting disciplined. In fact, I never saw my parents touch unless they were making up after a major fight and it was uncomfortable to see them touch, either hugging or holding hands. It isn’t surprising that they divorced and went on to live the same unhappy patterns.
Now, as I stated before, touch is necessary for our survival as humans. Dr. Leo Buscaglia or better known as “Dr. Love”, in the 1980’s said, “Hugs make you happier” and he taught about love and emotions and connecting with others. He wrote several best-selling books on love and connecting.
Several years ago, I had a business in a strip mall and two doors down was an Italian restaurant that was owned by a couple. Carole was always there first thing in the morning and we made a “hug pact”. Every day either she came to my shop or I went to hers and we shared a hug. Even now, twelve years later, I miss her hugs. However, I try to reach out to as many as possible and especially the elderly and give them a hug. I usually hug each client as they leave just because it feels natural and it lets them know I care. I am single and don’t get touched and a hug is a gift for them and for myself. Many of us have it in our nature to care for others, but we can do it better and be more effective if we care for ourselves, first.
Massage can be the necessary nurturing touch you need, to be healthier and happier in your life, but a hug will get you by until then too. Hug your children. Rub their backs before they fall asleep. Touch and hug those around you and let them know you care. Try it and see what changes happen.
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