The Science Behind the Power of Touch
posted on December 13, 2017
Touch is a really powerful thing.
I love touch. I crave touch. Touch makes me feel calm and safe. Touch makes me happy.
I’m not necessarily talking about sexual touch. I’m talking about hugging, holding hands, cuddling, stroking the arms or hair, even just a pat on the back.
I’ve gone through hard times in my life where my best friend’s touch helped tremendously.
Recently, I had wisdom teeth removal surgery. Even though I knew nothing was going to happen to me, my anxiety was really high. Because I started to cry, the nurse touched and stroked my hand as I was getting wheeled into the operating room and as I was getting put to sleep. Even though I wasn’t able to show it at the time because I was too distressed, it helped a bit.
I asked for my best friend as soon as I woke up because I knew she was going to be there when I woke up. I reached out for her hand. My anxiety was still high and her holding my hand calmed me down completely.
I started to wonder why and how touch is able to impact me in such a positive way.
According to this blog post, touch increases oxytocin, which is considered a “love/bonding” hormone; drops cortisol, which is a stress hormone; and triggers dopamine, which is considered a “feel good/pleasure” hormone. And according to this blog post, it can also increase serotonin levels.
When lots of oxytocin and dopamine is released, it can make you feel so good. It can make you feel loved and cared for, as well as increase feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion. It can also decrease feelings of anxiety and stress. It’s also a way to show reciprocity of love and friendship towards each other.
There have been multiple studies done on the impact of touch.
One study done by Tiffany Field showed that when premature babies are massaged, they gain about 40% to 50% body weight and released from the hospital approximately six days earlier than the premature babies who don’t get massaged.
In another scientific study called Lending a Hand, “16 married women were subjected to the threat of electric shock while holding their husband’s hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or no hand at all.”
When the participants held someone’s hand, they were more relaxed, and their stress levels decreased.
Studies also show that when people don’t receive regular touch, they are more likely to struggle with mental, emotional and physical issues. As this HuffPost article reads, “It’s more than just a comforting sensation; touch is vital to human development and life.”
A couple years ago, my best friend’s touch actually changed my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts at the time. We were in the hospital because of the way I was thinking and feeling. We had to wait a really long time to see someone. I just remember her laying beside me, holding me, stroking my hair and my arm. I loved it. I didn’t want to move. She eventually had to leave, which meant I had to let go. I was able to be released within an hour of her leaving. I wanted to stay alive because I realized that if I died, I would never be able to feel like that again, I would never be able to feel my best friend’s touch again.
If that isn’t powerful, I don’t know what is.
 HuffPost Partner Studio. (2016). The Science Behind The Profound Power Of Holding Hands. HuffPost. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/power-of-holding-hands_us_57435a8be4b00e09e89fc162
 Edwards, V. (n.d.). The Power (and Science) of Cuddling. Science of People. Retrieved from https://www.scienceofpeople.com/the-power-and-science-of-cuddling/
 Coan, J., Schaefer, H., & Davidson, R. (2006). Lending a Hand [Abstract]. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01832.x
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