You Get So Alone Sometimes

The first thing your mother’s doctor did after you were born was place your tiny, brand new body on your mother’s chest, and through the first few days of your life one of your parents’ many jobs was to take turns taking off their shirts to hold you. This practice is casually called “kangaroo care,” making it sound silly but it’s serious business. Touch is how we let newborn babies know that we love them, and numerous studies have been done on how skin contact as an infant develops serotonin and oxytocin pathways in us, helping us form healthy bonds and develop trust in others as adults. Being touched, by this metric, is literally how we learn to love each other and experience joy on a chemical level.

If you are lucky enough to be a parent, you probably remember this period of time right after your child(ren) arrived quite fondly, since adults benefit from skin to skin contact as well. We still require touch for emotional and mental health, and will continue to require touch until the day we die. Psychologists have come up with the term “skin hunger” to describe the effects resulting from a lack of physical contact with other humans. Skin hunger can present as general depression or anxiety, lead to feelings of isolation, interrupt our circadian rhythm, and can even weaken our immune system. This is because touch causes our brains to produce the hormones we need in order to feel happiness. And what’s more, the same oxytocin and serotonin that lets us feel joy also balance out cortisol, or stress hormone, levels. Out of check cortisol levels cause all sorts of mayhem-increased blood pressure, poor concentration, and a sluggish metabolism are just a few examples. It’s easy to see how quickly we can go off the rails if we miss out on something so simple as touch. Touch as an adult looks a little different than how we experienced it as infants, because casual contact like handshakes, brushing past strangers in a busy restaurant, or being packed into a sold-out concert all feed our nervous system’s need for our skin to be touched. Judging by these examples you might notice the distancing measures required to slow the spread of coronavirus are causing an uptick in perceived skin hunger right now, and it is no wonder that so many people’s mental health has taken a nosedive.

Not only is this the year of canceled plans and unpleasant surprises, but it is also the year of the most intense isolation we may ever experience in our lifetime. If you are straight up not having a good time right now, I cannot think of another time that a trip to the spa would be more therapeutic. Sure, massage feels good to your muscles and facials make your skin look amazing, but your soul needs you to book some table time.

– Colleen, Sacred Massage Therapist, Staff Writer