Touch is a fundamental necessity for all of us. When we first enter the world, for babies, it is essential to be held and rocked. Touch promotes development of our physical, emotional and social health. In fact, touch is the first of our five senses to develop. The need for touch, however, does not stop at infancy. It is not uncommon for many of us to find that as we age, we are lacking physical contact even though the same benefits that are true for babies, are true for adults.
We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and forget to take care of ourselves, building stress in our bodies. As stress increases in our lives, cortisol increases in our bodies. In high amounts, cortisol, a chemical hormone produced in our bodies in response to stress, can decrease our working memory, shut down the immune system, and cause tissue degeneration. However, stress reduction can be managed through touch.
The power of touch, such as hand holding, hugs, or therapeutic massage, stimulates the release of another hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin, also known as “the cuddle hormone” has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, promotes positive memories, increases libido, inhibits tolerance to addictive drugs, reduces withdrawal symptoms, promotes protective behavior, promotes sleep, and helps us foster generosity in our social circles. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that not only has positive outcomes for us as individuals, but also positive repercussions for our communities at large.
Not only can the power of touch stimulate the release oxytocin, but performed correctly, massage can add more benefits that support our wellbeing. Massage decreases levels of cortisol in the body by increasing circulation, promoting cell regeneration, and removal of toxic waste products produced by our cells through everyday metabolism. Massage can also reduce our heart rate and blood pressure. Touch activates rest and digest, prompting our parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates our fight or flight response, down regulating our sympathetic nervous system. In addition, touch can be used to treat tension headaches and give us peace of mind when our physical ailments are relieved.
The benefits of oxytocin are so far reaching that encouragement of heaps of healthy hugs and massage from a licensed massage therapist is a no brainer. Finding the right friend, partner, and professional massage therapist is essential for managing your stress, balancing your hormones, and promoting positive social behaviors that expand our physical emotional and social wellbeing. We wish you all the benefits of the power of touch.
Written by Shantee Scheel